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Negotiating Peace in Darfur

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
April 25, 2007

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On its website, the Save Darfur Coalition urges President Bush to strengthen the African Union (AU) force in Sudan’s Darfur region, push for deployment of a UN peacekeeping force, increase humanitarian aid, and establish a no-fly zone over the region. All laudable requests, yet noticeably missing is any entreaty to press for peace negotiations. International efforts to address the crisis in Darfur suffer from the same myopia. Nearly a year since one Darfur rebel group and the Sudanese government signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), zero progress has been made on bringing the other rebel groups—now numbering fifteen—to the negotiating table.

A new CFR.org Crisis Guide takes a multimedia look at the historical background to the Darfur conflict and the role of the United Nations and other international actors. Since fighting broke out in 2003, at least two hundred thousand people have died and more than 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes by fallout from the war between Darfur’s rebels and Sudanese janjaweed militias. In recent months, fighting on the ground has become “increasingly chaotic,” intensifying to include localized tribal conflicts and Arab-on-Arab violence, reports UN Special Envoy Andrew S. Natsios.

Most experts agree only a negotiated agreement between the rebel groups and Khartoum will ultimately bring peace to the region. An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times argues: “In the absence of a peace agreement to monitor, what right do we have to demand that anyone—be they our children or UN blue helmets from the Third World—go and die in Darfur?” The current peace agreement, which was negotiated in under a week and excludes the bulk of Darfur’s rebels, stands little chance of being implemented, writes Alex de Waal in the London Review of Books.

Some argue that the numerous rebel groups and their disparate political (and personal) agendas have prevented a peace process from coalescing. Others say the rebels want peace, but the international community has been too disorganized (BosGlobe) to facilitate negotiations. “Diplomatic efforts to jumpstart political talks between the government and rebel groups are rudderless,” says a new report from ENOUGH, a joint initiative of the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress that aims to stop genocide in Africa. It recommends pursuing a strategy similar to the one that produced the 2005 peace agreement in southern Sudan. In that case, a regional organization facilitated peace talks in partnership with individual countries, including the United States.

The United States currently supports an effort led by UN Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and AU Chief Mediator Salim Ahmed Salim, but other countries have adopted different approaches. There are five regional actors competing to persuade rebel leaders to develop a common agenda, writes David Smock in a new United States Institute of Peace (USIP) briefing. These governments are far from biased: Some give money and arms to rebel groups.  

Then there is the Sudanese government, which has shown little interest in fulfilling the terms of the DPA and has expended considerable effort to prevent Darfur’s rebels from reviving the peace process. Government bombings have delayed rebel conferences at least twice. In addition, Khartoum has imprisoned the chief humanitarian coordinator for the rebel movements, a man “widely recognized as the figure essential to forging a united rebel negotiating presence,” according to Darfur expert Eric Reeves. The Sudanese government is open to increase the DPA terms on compensation to Darfurians who have suffered losses, writes Smock, but on other key points such as a process for the return of displaced people and more political control for Darfurians, their stance is unclear.

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