The Dying Darfur Peace Agreement – ISN

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El-Fasher, Darfur – Despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) by the Sudanese government and one rebel faction on 5 May, tensions remain high in the vast and remote western region. Two rebel factions have not signed the agreement, and fragmentation among signatories and refuseniks alike is affecting security on the ground.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic row over a planned UN takeover of the Darfur peacekeeping duties from the African Union (AU) hangs over the 1-2 July AU Summit in Banjul, where AU states and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will seek to persuade Khartoum to accept a UN force.

Darfur's camps stretch out across the hot, dusty Sahel (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

It has been almost two months since the signing of the DPA in Abuja, Nigeria. The peace deal was controversial from the outset, with then-US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick present to move the negotiations along by exerting much pressure on all sides to sign the agreemen

Lack of security on the ground undermines aid agency efforts to reach people in camps with vital food, health, water, health and sanitation provisions, while the looming rainy season will worsen the already diminished humanitarian access to Darfur’s three million conflict affected.

An aid worker speaking to ISN Security Watch on condition of anonymity said: “The rebels are fighting each other, stealing cars from aid workers and agencies. The [government-backed] Janjaweed [militia] still roam the countryside, preying on the people and thriving as the rebels turn on each other.”

Numerous recent reports suggest that unknown thieves are holding up and stealing vehicles from aid agencies. Over two dozen such incidents have been reported in recent weeks. While no official confirmation or denials have been issued as to the identities of those involved, it is thought that various factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) factions are responsible, converting looted 4×4 vehicles into pick-ups suitable for military use.

The outcome is that aid agencies curtail their areas of operation, leaving conflict-displaced people without vital food, health, nutrition and sanitation services.

In total, 750,000 Darfurians are thought to be beyond the reach of humanitarian aid, and a total of 3.5 million are affected by the conflict. Two million of these are crammed into vast squalid and dusty camps. If the DPA fails, the humanitarian costs may well be immense, and the military-strategic facts on the ground, in terms of who controls where, and the regional demography of Darfur, may well be altered irreversibly amid imminent chaos.

The vicious reality

The DPA came about after two years of stop-start negotiations in Abuja, with a Sudanese government team consistently outwitting and outflanking its increasingly divided SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel opponents. As the talks continued, the violence and displacement continued on the ground, making the talks appear increasingly irrelevant and abstracted from the vicious reality of Darfur.

Khartoum used the negotiations to sow discord among the rebels, who are now divided along tribal-ethnic lines, with the mainly Zaghawa SLA-Minawi supporting the agreement, and the Fur-led SLA Wahid against. However, Wahid’s SLA is the more ecumenical grouping, and commands much greater grassroots support in Darfur. Minawi, by contrast, is militarily stronger. Minawi’s Zaghawa vanguard fought with great success against Sudanese troops and the government-backed Janjaweed militia in northern Darfur in 2003 and 2004, and the Sudanese clearly saw his faction as the one to co-opt into any peace agreement.

Under duress from the US, Nigeria and the AU, the Sudanese government made a number of surprising concessions in the DPA, but these did not go far enough for the JEM or the Wahid faction of the SLA. Khartoum is obliged to disarm the Janjaweed militia, which it arms, funds, and co-opts into its own official security apparatus such as the Popular Defence Force. Wahid wants a direct SLA role in this, distrusting Khartoum to fulfil its obligation.

Indeed, a recent deadline for Khartoum to present a plan for disarmament of the Janjaweed has passed, as have other DPA-related deadlines on political appointments and wealth-sharing aspects of the deal. The Darfur Peace Agreement is fast becoming the Dead Peace Agreement, as rival SLA groups confront each other on the ground and Janjaweed assaults on the civilian population continue.

Although the Sudanese government has apparently accepted responsibility for the Janjaweed by consenting to disarm them in the DPA, it may not now be able to do so effectively. The Sudanese may not fully control the militia they created.

One victim, Ibrahim Nesha, spoke to ISN Security Watch at a camp for the internally displaced in northern Darfur. He said “this is not a peace. Unless the Janjaweed is disarmed there will be no peace in Darfur.”

In a number of camps in Darfur visited by ISN Security Watch, civilians unanimously said they needed protection and that they did not trust the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed, and would welcome international intervention.

As Hamza Tijani told ISN Security Watch: “We will welcome any troops who can protect us. Anyone who can stop the Janjaweed raping women when they leave the camp to collect firewood.

Her brother Suleiman added: “If the UN protects us we will welcome them.”

Such sentiments were repeated in over a dozen interviews carried out by ISN Security Watch in five camps in Darfur. The UN can come, but they must offer real protection.

However, Sudanese President Oman al-Bashir has refuted the notion of a UN peacekeeping force taking over from underfunded and ineffective African Union peacekeepers. Referring to Sudan’s history as the first African state to benefit from post-Second World War decolonization, he declared: “Sudan will not be the first to be decolonized.”

It is thought that the Khartoum ruling elites fear that a UN force will act on International Criminal Court (ICC) requests that those it deems responsible for the perceived genocide in Darfur be arrested and indicted.

There are already nearly 10,000 UN peacekeepers in Sudan as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), now coalition partners in Khartoum’s Government of National Unity (GNU).

However, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has no mandate to enter Darfur, and has its hands full marshalling the shaky north-south peace deal. However, UNMIS presence in Sudan will be used by Khartoum to justify resistance to another 10,000-12,000 peacekeepers being stationed in Darfur.

In the meantime, Darfurians must rely on the ineffective and underfunded African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).

In two camps visited by ISN Security Watch, camels apparently owned by the Janjaweed were tethered within 100 meters of the AMIS barracks inside the camp.

Darfurians in camps are as unanimous in their derision toward the AMIS force as they are about their need for protection. “The AU hides in their tents when the Janjaweed comes,” commented Abdullah Yusuf. In another camp, close to El-Fasher in central Darfur, Hassan Rahman added: “The AU cannot help us. Janjaweed loot this camp every night, they rape women, they kill anyone who protests. The AU does nothing.”

The African Union convenes in Banjul, Gambia on 1-2 July. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will attend, and will meet the Sudanese president to reaffirm the need to send a UN force to Darfur.

However, even if al-Bashir consents, it will take a minimum six months, according to UN peacekeeping chief Jean Marie Guehenno, before the UN can get boots on the ground.

In the meantime, the AMIS will continue to be the peacekeeping presence in Darfur. At Banjul, the AU will devise a new funding proposal and new military plans for the AMIS, and then will present these at a Brussels donor conference in July, in a last attempt to bolster and improve the AMIS position on the ground in Darfur.

However, these next few months will be critical for the civilians of Darfur, as the rainy season approaches. Militarily, with the DPA failing, the rainy season will not see a huge increase in fighting. However, once the rains cease, if the DPA collapses and international attention wanes, Darfur may see another series of military offensives, shifting alliances, and ruthless scorched counter-insurgency campaigns conducted against civilians. The outlook is bleak.

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