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Sudan Strife Bleeds across Borders

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
January 2, 2007

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Four months after the UN Security Council approved an UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continues to bar such troops, as well as a hybrid AU-UN force offered as a compromise. Recent international efforts to budge Bashir have involved everyone from British Prime Minster Tony Blair to actor George Clooney. Blair announced he would back a no-fly zone (BBC) over Sudan, while Clooney urged China and Egypt to pressure Khartoum. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pushed in vain for a force before he left office; Slate offers the text of a letter Annan sent to Bashir in November and Bashir's recent ambiguous response. Even if Bashir accepts the force, a report from the UN peacekeeping office (obtained by the Financial Times) challenges the Security Council resolution, warning there is no peace for such a force to maintain, and any deployment "should be contingent on a cessation of hostilities."

While the international community ties itself in knots trying to work out a diplomatic solution, Sudan’s neighbors—Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR)—face growing instability. Rebel groups in both countries seek to overthrow their presidents, and fighting between government troops and rebels has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee. Many have been living in the forests of northeastern CAR for nearly a year, and some fifty thousand have fled across the border into Chad out of desperation (CSMonitor).

A new CFR.org Backgrounder looks at the dismal state of humanitarian aid in each country, the motives of the rebel groups, and how each country’s government has addressed—or exacerbated—the crisis. A BBC map illustrates the spreading zone of conflict.

Evidence mounts that the Sudanese government has a hand in its neighbors’ strife. The authoritative London-based newsletter Africa Confidential reports that Khartoum demanded Chad’s three rebel groups unite at a secret military conference in West Darfur, and a Power and Interest News report cites a likely financial link between Khartoum and the rebels. The CAR government claims the Sudanese government also supports its rebels, and though they have offered no proof of this link and Khartoum denies the charge, there are “strong indications” it exists, says Sayre Nyce, congressional advocate for the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Refugees International who recently returned from a fact-finding mission in CAR.

Meanwhile, questions mount over how to get Bashir to accept peacekeepers, and what recourse the international community faces if the stalemate persists. “No one can guarantee what will work with a regime as tough-minded and inscrutable as Sudan’s,” says an International Crisis Group report on getting the UN forces into Darfur, “but patient diplomacy and trust in Khartoum’s good faith has been a patent failure.”

Bashir’s intransigence has compelled some to call for the use of military force in Darfur. Susan E. Rice, the assistant secretary of state for Africa under President Clinton, advocates “bombing Sudanese targets—air fields, air assets, command and control installations—that have been instrumental in the perpetration of the genocide” if Khartoum does not accept the UN force within a two-week deadline (PBS). And in fact, the United Nations might be obligated to pursue military force: CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein writes that the UN’s endorsement of the “responsibility to protect” means “force cannot be ruled out,” when national governments fail to protect their populations.

Stability in Chad and the Central African Republic remains unlikely while the crisis in Darfur continues. "As long as the problem of Darfur is not solved, you will not have peace in Ndjamena or Bangui," Lamine Cissé, the top UN official in the CAR, told the New York Times. "The conflicts are all linked, and solving one requires solving all."

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