After much diplomatic wrangling and months of stalling by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Khartoum has agreed to the deployment of a joint United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in its western Darfur region. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Sudan’s acceptance “a milestone development” (Reuters), but the agreement was greeted with widespread skepticism. “Rather than cheer, Darfur watchers mostly reacted with a yawn,” said a Los Angeles Times editorial.
The agreement, a revision of the three-phase plan Bashir accepted in November 2006, calls for overall command of the force by the United Nations and daily operational command by the African Union. Priority will be given to African peacekeepers, but non-Africans will be included (in a proportion that is yet to be determined). Logistical constraints mean the force, expected to be roughly twenty thousand troops, will not be deployed until next year. In the meantime, the security situation in Darfur remains dire, and some, including Sudan expert Eric Reeves, say the scope of the humanitarian emergency is underreported. This Crisis Guide illustrates the history of the conflict in Darfur and the international response.
As the world waits to see if the latest agreement is real, experts caution that a hybrid force—the fixation of international efforts for nearly a year—is not a solution. They say only a sustained and strong diplomatic push to advance peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebels can stabilize Darfur. The May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, which was only signed by one of Darfur’s rebel groups, has failed to bring security to the area, and in its aftermath the rebels have splintered into a dozen groups. Attempts to revive the long-neglected peace process have floundered, and there is little consensus on how to move forward.
A joint UN/AU effort, led by Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and AU Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim, appears to be the best chance for progress (AP). Yet other actors—including Eritrea, Libya, and Egypt—are pursuing their own initiatives, and UN and AU officials face the challenge of aligning these groups and their divergent goals. Once there is a unified peace effort, the rebel movements will need to be brought to a common position. This is possible, according to an International Crisis Group report, but experts say it could take many months.
The fragile peace between North and South Sudan further complicates the landscape for negotiation. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) allows for national power-sharing and calls for national elections in 2009, but the SPLM, South Sudan’s rebel movement turned political party, worries that Darfur peace negotiations might necessitate reopening the CPA. In an interview with CFR.org, Sudan’s U.S. ambassador and former SPLM member, John Ukec Lueth Ukec, said such a move would be a “disaster.” But there are signs Darfur’s rebels want to revisit the CPA. “The SPLM must stop treating the CPA as an untouchable sacred cow,” writes Dr. Abdullahi Osman El-Tom, a Darfur rebel involved with the peace process, in the Sudan Tribune. The two peace processes are inextricably linked, writes Lee J. M. Seymour of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and the international focus on Darfur should be corrected to account for the instability in South Sudan.