The surprise rebel assault (NPR) on an African Union base in northern Darfur at the end of September was a double blow to the region’s nascent peace process. The attack, which left ten peacekeepers dead, will likely prompt some African countries to reconsider (IHT) their troop contributions to the joint UN/AU force scheduled for deployment by the end of the year. It also calls into question the feasibility of bringing Darfur’s myriad rebel groups to a common negotiating position ahead of peace talks scheduled for October 27 in Tripoli, Libya.
Experts agree that lasting peace will only come to Darfur with a political settlement between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel factions. But the road to such an agreement will be rocky. As this new Backgrounder discusses, Darfur’s rebel groups have splintered since the last round of peace talks (that produced the failed Darfur Peace Agreement), and it’s unclear whether these groups actually represent the interests of Darfur’s people. The UN/AU mediation team has made efforts to consult with non-rebel groups such as women, internally displaced persons, Arab tribes, and civil society organizations. But some analysts say these groups are stakeholders that need to be represented at the negotiation table.
Bringing peace to Darfur may also hinge on Sudan’s neighbors. Libya, Chad, and Eritrea all have vested interests in the conflict and could hinder peace negotiations. Yet “these governments are quite prepared to sabotage the peace process at any moment if they see it to be in their interests,” writes Sudan expert Alex de Waal in the Online Africa Policy Forum. All three countries have become more cooperative in recent months, however, and more pressing issues than Darfur loom for both Eritrea (Somalia) and Chad (internal power struggles).
As international attention remains riveted on Darfur, a separate peace deal that holds in south Sudan—the Comprehensive Peace Agreement—appears increasingly fragile. On October 12, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the region's former rebel group, suspended participation (AP) in the central government, citing the Sudanese government's failure to adhere to the peace agreement. Both parties missed (VOA) their deadlines to remove troops from the oil-rich area of Abyei in mid-July. There have also been delays in funding and administering a national census, a crucial prelude to national elections slated for 2009. As the Washington-based advocacy group Refugees International documents, the lack of security structures in south Sudan has heightened tensions. Relations between the two sides have become “poisonous,” (FT) warns Andrew Natsios, U.S. special envoy to Sudan.
If Darfur poses a threat to the peace agreement in south Sudan, success in the south could facilitate Darfur’s peace process. The two are inextricably linked, as this Backgrounder discusses, through the 2009 national elections called for under the peace plan. The International Crisis Group says if implemented, the south’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement “would help transform the oppressive governmental system that is at the root of all these conflicts into a more open, transparent, inclusive and democratic one.” It cautions, however, that the collapse of the agreement would likely lead to full-scale war.