Darfur Peace Accord

Say What You Like on Paper

After almost two years, talks moderated by the African Union on the future of Darfur have finally produced results. Yet many doubt that the government in Khartoum and the rebels are truly serious about making peace. Marc Engelhardt reports

The enormous pressure felt up until the last minute by all participants in Abuja dissipated with a thunderous round of applause. After all ultimatums had expired numerous times, the leader of the largest rebel group in Darfur finally accepted the peace agreement brokered by the African Union (AU).

"I accept the document, although I have reservations on the issue of power distribution," declared Minni Minnawi, the leader of the largest faction of the divided Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). Approval was not easy, stressed Minnawi, who earlier had consulted with his followers for hours on end.

Rebels under pressure

It was May 5. For days, the international negotiators had been trying to persuade the rebels to agree to the final document. "You won't get a better deal," US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick supposedly warned the three rebel groups sitting at the table. Yet, the other half of the SLA under Abdul Wahid Mohammed Al-Nur and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) are still demanding more autonomy in Darfur and more power in Khartoum.

"Darfur must become an autonomous province," according to JEM spokesman Ahmed Tugod. "And we want the post of a vice-president in Khartoum." Al-Nur also wants more concessions to be enshrined in an addendum to the peace agreement. To date, no one is prepared to agree to such demands. The African Union has given both rebel groups a deadline until the end of May to unconditionally sign the present document. Even the UN Security Council has threatened action if this doesn't happen.

Disarmament of the Janjaweed

Without a doubt, the most important clause in the peace agreement stipulates the disarming of the Janjaweed militia, a group recruited from local Arab nomadic tribes, which has been receiving arms from the Sudanese government for more than three years. It was their attacks with the support of the Sudanese air force in early 2003 that resulted in what UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland describes as "the largest humanitarian catastrophe worldwide."

Sedentary farmers, largely belonging to black African ethnic groups, fled from their villages to escape brutal murders and rapes. There are currently between two and three million displaced persons living in camps, estimates the UN Refugee Agency.

The deadline for disarmament set by the peace treaty is for the middle of October. How the parties will comply with these terms remains unclear. Observers all agree that the government in Khartoum, which officially denies that it provides any support to the Janjaweed, has long since lost control over the militia. This is confirmed by a Janjaweed commander.

"We feel betrayed by the government. First they wanted us to squash the rebellion, and now we are being deprived of our reward." In contrast to the rebels, the Janjaweed did not sit at the negotiating table in Abuja. They do not feel bound by the results.

Gains and losses

According to the peace treaty, the rebels are to demobilize only after the disarming of the Janjaweed. Some 4000 rebels are to be integrated into the army, 1000 into the police force, and a further 3000 are to take part in the administration of Darfur. The fighters will maintain their ranks in the national army. Protection zones are to be established around refugee camps. These are the gains negotiated by the rebels.

The government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir celebrates its success in the second part of the agreement, which deals with the division of power. Bashir wanted at all costs to prevent yet another constituent state within politically centralized Sudan from gaining more power. On this point, he succeeded.

According the peace treaty, the "fourth highest position in the state" – the "Senior Advisor to the President" – has been reserved for the rebels. They are also to have representation in the political structures of the three provinces making up Darfur. For the time being, there won't be a unified Darfur region, as was demanded by the rebels. Finally, the agreement provides for a one-time payment by Khartoum totaling 700 million US dollars for reconstruction. There are no plans for binding additional payments from Khartoum's oil millions.

UN peace-keepers as the sticking point

The fact that Minnawi, at least, signed the agreement can most probably be ascribed to an arrangement not mentioned in the document. This envisages the stationing of UN peace-keepers in Darfur to replace the 7000 poorly trained and financed soldiers under the African Union mandate. Shortly before the settlement in Abuja, Khartoum is said to have given up its opposition to this point if the other parties would sign the peace agreement. Yet, only two weeks later, no one in Bashir's government will be tied to the arrangement.

"There is nothing in the agreement on the issue of UN peace-keepers and we continue to oppose their employment in Darfur," stressed Foreign Minister Lam Akol. A few hours later, the UN Security Council decided to first send a military assessment mission, although its purpose is now unclear.

Khartoum's opposition only serves to confirm the reservations of the rebels. They doubt whether Khartoum will really implement the agreement. Bashir has already broken too many treaties in the past.

An ominous situation in Darfur

Such fears are bolstered by the situation on the ground. There are currently more than 100,000 refugees starving under the burning sun at a camp in Gereida in southern Sudan. Food supply transports have been unable to reach the camp, as it is surrounded on all sides by the Janjaweed. The rebels defending the camp belong to Mennawi's SLA faction.

"When the Janjaweed pull out, then we will lay down our weapons," assured local commander Hamed Ismail Tijani. Yet, the newly arriving refugees see no sign of a change. "I have been fleeing for days on foot, because the army and the Janjaweed attacked," reported Nasser Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed. He not only lost all of his possessions, but also his relatives during the escape.

When the rainy season begins in only a few weeks, the UN will be able to provide for even fewer refugees than at present. The UN World Food Programme is facing yet another problem. The donor countries are tired of giving. "We had to reduce daily food rations by half to an average of just 1050 calories per person," stated WFP Director James Morris. "This is absolutely not enough to live on," fumed UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland. Of the 746 million US dollars that are needed for bare essentials, only a third has been committed.

Where the rest will come from remains to be seen. Many rebels fear that Khartoum may now be merely playing for time. When the plight worsens, then the government could try to alter the terms of the agreement to its advantage.

Marc Engelhardt

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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