Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Xan Rice, "Sudan rejects UN peacekeepers for Darfur," Guardian, July 3, 2006.

African Union troops will remain in Darfur until at least the end of the year, after Kofi Annan failed to persuade Sudan's government to allow in UN peacekeepers.

The 7,000-strong AU mission, which is under-funded, under-manned and has a weak mandate, was due to end by October. A proposed "blue-helmet" force, up to double in size and with more powers, was seen by many as the only way to end continued fighting and police a fragile peace deal.

But last night the UN secretary general - who had earlier described the situation in Darfur as "one of the worst nightmares in recent history" - said President Omar el-Bashir had refused to allow the handover.

"I of course continued to press for the eventual deployment of a UN force in Darfur and we agreed that dialogue had to continue," said Mr Annan, speaking at an African Union summit in Gambia. "In the world of politics, things change. We hear 'never', 'forever', and yet in time it does come around."

But few people share his optimism, and the decision to prolong the AU mission is unlikely to please anyone except Khartoum. African Union commanders admit that they are not able to adequately protect the two million people who have fled their homes in Darfur since the government launched attacks against civilians in 2003. They also lack the resources to monitor a peace agreement that was signed by the government and the main faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) group on May 5 but has done little to improve security.

"For the people of Darfur this is not good news," said Mohamed Guyo, acting director of the Institute for Security Studies thinktank in Nairobi. "The humanitarian situation is worsening and they know that the AU troops cannot control the situation or enforce the peace deal."

Last week the head of UN mission to Sudan Jan Pronk warned that the peace agreement, which has been rejected by three smaller rebel movements in Darfur, was in danger of collapsing. Writing on his blog, he said that none of the deadlines agreed to - including those for setting up buffer zones and safe humanitarian routes - had been met.

"It is no wonder that the people in Darfur get the idea that the DPA [Darfur peace agreement] is just another text without substance, like earlier ceasefire agreements, and is not meant to be kept," he said. Minnie Minawi, the leader of the SLA, also warned last month that the deal could falter if UN peacekeepers were not deployed.

But analysts say that Mr Bashir is unlikely to soften his stance. He says that a UN mission would equate to a western occupation of Sudan and would attract Islamic militants.

A UN mission would bring closer the possibility of senior government figures - including Mr Bashir - facing war crimes charges from the international criminal court relating to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Darfur and across the border in Chad, which has been drawn into the conflict.

It may also weaken his political position, which has already been diminished by a separate north-south peace deal signed in January 2005. The agreement ended a two-decade war and gave southerners significant representation in parliament.

"Bashir is facing increasing internal dissent, and the main opposition party is accusing him of putting Sudan's sovereignty in jeopardy through his actions in Darfur," said Mr Guyo. "He is desperate to show he is in control of Darfur, and with only the AU on the ground, he is."

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