Darfur peace deal fanning the flames of conflict

by Alexander Weissink in Sudan Members of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) hang lazily around their pick-up truck - machine guns and grenade launchers slung nonchalantly over their shoulders

6 October 2006

by Alexander Weissink in Sudan

Members of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) hang lazily around their pick-up truck - machine guns and grenade launchers slung nonchalantly over their shoulders - as they endure the oppressive heat of the day. Just six months ago, the population of Gereida in the Sudanese province of Darfur regarded these rebels as their protectors, but since the SLA - under the leadership of Mini Minawi - concluded a peace deal with the Sudanese government on 5 May the villagers have felt terrorised. As the village elder explains, the local population has been the target of intimidation and violent attacks.

There's a refugee camp on the outskirts of Gereida and it's grown in six months' time to become the largest of its kind in Sudan. More than 130,000 people have sought shelter here because of the fighting in the region around Gereida, which lies in the southern part of Darfur.

On many occasions it's the Janjaweed - Arab militia forces who travel by horse or camel - who carry out these attacks, but now the refugees also don't feel safe in this bastion of the SLA. Just as elsewhere in
Darfur, women who stray outside the camp to gather wood are frequently attacked and raped. Almost as frequently it's near impossible to identify exactly who is responsible for these outrages.

Aid agencies pull out
Two weeks ago, fighting broke out between the SLA rebels - who've been entrenched in the village for about a year - and some 70 militia fighters from outside Gereida. It's not known how many died in the
ensuing violence, but the situation was bad enough to force the international aid organisations which had been bringing water, food and medicine to the camp on a daily basis, to quit the area immediately,
leaving the refugees to fend for themselves.

Emergency meeting
The United States wants an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to be held on the issue of Darfur. The reason for this was provided by etter from the Sudanese governemtn to African and Arabic nations, calling on these countries not to make troops available for a peace mission in Darfur.

The letter indicates that Sudan would regard the supply of such troops as a hostile act. Khartoum does not want a UN force to replace.Earlier this year the Security Council agreed to the deployment of 20,000 UN
peacekeepers in Darfur on condition that Sudan accepts this arrangement.

The United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy for Darfur, Dutch former minister Jan Pronk, fears a further worsening of the situation in Darfur. He believes the chances of peace throughout the region have
actually diminished as a result of the peace agreement between the Khartoum government and Mini Minawi's SLA. This is because government forces and the Janjaweed have now turned their attention to the other rebels who didn't sign up to the deal. Furthermore, fighting has also been breaking out between rebel groups that were once allies.

Mr Pronk also believes that this fighting means it will become increasingly more difficult for aid organisations to get through to the refugee camps in the months to come. It's estimated that more than two million people have moved to refugee camps since the conflict in Darfur exploded some three years ago. The increasingly dangerous situation has compelled aid agencies to quit other parts of Darfur as well as the
village of Gereida.

On Thursday, 5 October, the UN Special Envoy was forced to break off his visit to the rebel bastion when gunfire was exchanged close by. The rebels blamed this clash on the Janjaweed. Mr Pronk was led by his Romanian bodyguards and armed rebels along a stream to shelter behind some rocks in case an attack on the village took place. Later, when security staff judged the situation safe enough, he was immediately flown by helicopter to the provincial capital, Nyala.

Mr Pronk (photo)held separate meetings with field commanders from two rebel groups which have not signed the peace deal. Although he told them their groups were within their rights not to accept the agreement, he expressed regret that the rebels have become hopelessly divided, and commented that the rebels should talk to one another and speak with one voice. He said that otherwise the Khartoum government could use divide and rule tactics against them.

Shortly before Mr Pronk was evacuated to Nyala, field commander Abdurahman Gadura - of the SLA splinter group led by rebel leader Abdul Wahid who represents the ethnic Fur people of Darfur - said that he refuses to speak with other rebels who have accepted the peace agreement with the government.

Cause of conflict
Mr Pronk, who says that he also has major objections to the text of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), believes the agreement itself has become a cause of conflict rather than a bringer of peace. He recently told the UN Security Council that the peace agreement is now "in coma but not receiving the necessary intensive care". One of the main reasons for this is the government's failure to adhere to its terms and conditions. Khartoum has, for example, been refusing to discuss violations of the ceasefire in the specially created monitoring commission.

Security Council resolution 1706 calls for a UN peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur provided that the Sudanese government agrees to this. So far, Khartoum has resolutely dismissed the idea of a UN force being deployed, and Mr Pronk believes its attitude is unlikely to change.

Let down
For the moment, an African Union military force - known as AMIS - with some 7000 men is charged with supervising the ceasefire in Darfur - a vast region which is roughly as large as France. The AU force has, however, proved incapable of preventing the fighting between government forces, militias and rebel groups. Nor has there been any drop in the number of attacks on and cases of rape of women who leave the refugee camps to collect wood. AMIS has been accused of weakness in the face of the Sudanese government, but Mr Pronk says he does not blame the AU or its force because he believes they have been let down by the international community.

AMIS' mandate was recently extended for three months and will now end of 31 December. Jan Pronk fears that the departure of the AU troops will mean that the refugees will be attacked by the Janjaweed in the very camps where they now live. "The way will then be open for them," is how he describes what could happen if the proposed UN peacekeeping force is still not welcome when the AU mandate expires.

RNW Internet translation (tpf)

? Copyright by sudaneseonline.com