Despite a recent peace accord, a new U.N. Security Council resolution, and agreement by Sudan to permit a U.N. assessment team to travel to Darfur to determine how to strengthen peacekeeping forces there, the situation in the region, as well as in eastern Chad, has continued to deteriorate, according to sources here.
Attacks on villages and refugee camps by Khartoum-backed Arab militias, or Janjaweed, have been reported throughout Darfur in the past week, while fighting between various rebel factions has reportedly intensified. More than 700,000 people scattered around the region are currently without access to humanitarian relief, according to U.N. agencies.
On Thursday, the headquarters of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the main rebel faction that signed the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), was reportedly attacked by the rival the Justice and Equality Movement in an apparent effort to eliminate the SLA’s senior leadership, and, with it, the DPA.
At the same time, Janjaweed militias have been rampaging through much of eastern Chad, whose beleaguered president, Idriss Deby, has reportedly withdrawn his army to large towns and garrisons in the area.
As a result, security in much of the countryside has virtually collapsed, and humanitarian workers are being pulled out, leaving more than 350,000 people — both refugees from Darfur and local Chadians — beyond the reach of international assistance, according to U.N. relief officials and human rights groups.
“Sudanese militiamen are moving further and further into Chad and are looting Chadian villages,” according to Peter Takirambudde, the Africa director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which Friday reported details of an apparent massacre by Janjaweed and local Chadian recruits of more than 100 people in one cluster of villages last month.
The spreading violence prompted a joint appeal Friday by HRW, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group (ICG) for the U.N. Security Council to urgently deploy a strong U.N. peacekeeping mission to Darfur to protect civilians there no later than Oct. 1.
Such a force, which has yet to be mandated by the Security Council, would take over from an African Union (AU) peace-monitoring mission which, lacking a mandate to use force except for self-defence and with only 7,000 troops, has largely failed to maintain security in the France-sized region.
“Darfur’s most urgent need is for a significantly stronger international force to be deployed without delay,” according to a letter to the Security Council signed by the directors of the three groups.
Noting that the Security Council last month formally endorsed the principle of a “responsibility to protect” beleaguered civilians in armed conflict, the groups argued that the world body now faces a “key test” of its commitment in Darfur, where as many as 400,000 people are believed to have died as a result of the violence there over the past three years.
“The Security Council must fulfill its ‘responsibility to protect’ Sudanese civilians from further attacks by insisting Khartoum stop stalling and accept a robust U.N. force,” said ICG’s president, Gareth Evans. “In the meantime, the African Union’s efforts in Darfur must be supported and reinforced so it can better protect civilians.”
The growing sense of alarm comes in the wake of a series of developments that sparked some hope for an end to the violence that has dominated Darfur — and now eastern Chad — over the past three years.
They included the signing by the SLA’s main faction and the Khartoum government of the DPA earlier this month and the subsequent unanimous approval by the Security Council of a resolution calling on Sudan to facilitate access of U.N. planners to Darfur to lay the groundwork for strengthening the AU force and deploying a larger U.N. operation.
The fact that the resolution invoked so-called “Chapter 7″ authority — which implicitly threatened the use of force if Khartoum failed to comply by May 23 — was depicted as something of a diplomatic breakthrough by U.S. officials, who have pushed hardest for Security Council action. The Bush administration has repeatedly referred to the violence in Darfur as a “genocide”.
After meeting in Khartoum this week with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced Thursday that Sudan had agreed to permit the assessment mission to go Darfur. The news was hailed by both the U.N. and the State Department as a positive step.
But no sooner had Brahimi departed the Sudanese capital than senior Khartoum officials there stressed to reporters that their approval of the assessment mission did not extend to the eventual deployment of a peacekeeping force.
“The (U.N.) role has not been decided yet,” presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters Friday. “Will it be a humanitarian role, one of monitoring the cease-fire, a role of peacekeeping?” he asked, suggesting that all that remains to be negotiated between Khartoum and the U.N.
This is of a piece with a strategy of delay, according to analysts here who say that Khartoum has actually emerged from the latest developments in a stronger position, in part due to the fact that only one of three rebel factions signed the DPA with the result that intra-rebel violence has spiked.
Not only will Khartoum be better able to blame rebels for the continuing violence — and play them off against each other — but international support for strong intervention is likely to diminish as the situation appears more complicated.
“Khartoum knows that this is the moment that international attention and pressure are most focused on them,” said Eric Reeves, a leading Sudan activist. “In their view, that interest can only go down.”
Reeves also pointed out that, during the Security Council debate, China stated explicitly that it would not support any future resolution authorising a U.N. peace-enforcement mission to Sudan under Chapter 7 authority without which, he said, any deployment would be “meaningless”.
“Without a mandate to disarm or confront combatants or separate civilians from combatants,” he said, “a U.N. force would not be able to respond to the acute security threats that civilians and humanitarian workers now face,” he told IPS.
Moreover, the failure of two rebel factions to sign the DPA — despite enormous pressure from the AU, the European Union (EU), and the U.S. — highlights the degree to which Khartoum, which embraced the accord as soon it was presented, sees it as advantageous.
“The bottom line is that this is the agreement they wanted,” said Ted Dagne, a Sudan expert at the Congressional Research Service. “It effectively maintains the status quo — it keeps them in power and maintains the constitutional framework they’re happy with.”
The ICG’s Sudan expert, John Prendergast, agreed that the DPA is deeply flawed in that it failed to offer key concessions — including verifiable provisions for the safe and secure return home of the roughly two million people who have been displaced in Darfur, for their compensation, and for the disarmament of the Janajaweed, let alone power-sharing — to get the dissident groups to sign.
“Khartoum’s objective now is to delay implementation and the deployment of a U.N. force, at least until it can integrate the Janjaweed into its (security and military) forces,” he told IPS. “They’re going to string out every step. Eventually, they’ll acquiesce — making it look like they compromised — but late enough to ensure that their core interests are protected.”