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Sudan’s Ticking Time Bomb

Authors: Lee Hudson Teslik, and Stephanie Hanson
October 29, 2007


Analysts widely predicted a flop at October 27 Darfur peace talks in Libya, given that the country’s three main rebel groups announced ahead of time that they would not attend. By all accounts, a flop (Guardian) is what they got—but ongoing talks behind closed doors left uncertainty about whether some form of political deal might still be in the works. International negotiators attempted to stave off complete collapse by scrambling to give rebels more time to forge an agreement with the Sudanese government (BBC). Darfur's rebels accuse the government of violating the cease-fire it declared at the start of talks. The two parties met privately October 29 to set an agenda (Reuters) for moving peace talks forward, but the long-term outlook remains hazy.

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. Darfur’s rebel groups have splintered since the last round of peace talks, as outlined in a recent Backgrounder on Darfur’s peace process. Nor is it even clear whether these groups actually represent the interests of Darfur’s people. A joint United Nations/African Union mediation team has made efforts to consult with non-rebel groups such as women, internally displaced persons, Arab tribes, and civil society organizations. Some analysts say these groups need to be represented at the negotiation table. But in an interview with, Jan Eliasson, the UN special envoy to Darfur and mediator of the talks, says he and fellow mediator Salim Ahmed Salim “cannot promise full participation at the negotiation table for all groups.” The peace efforts come against a backdrop of severe humanitarian problems, with ongoing violence reported against civilians and over a million displaced.

Bringing peace to Darfur may also hinge on Sudan’s neighbors. Libya, Chad, and Eritrea have vested interests and stand ready to hinder peace negotiations. Each is “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 (its conflict with Somalia) and Chad (internal power struggles).

Meanwhile, the role of Western mediators is raising new questions. The Washington Post reports that tough U.S. rhetoric toward Sudan does not match policy, and that the United States has exacerbated violence by sending inconsistent messages. Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi, who has strived to take a leading role mediating the conflict, said Western officials should leave the Sudanese to resolve the conflict on their own (AFP). Eliasson counters that international peacekeeping forces are “absolutely essential.” Peacekeepers and military forces are “mutually reinforcing the efforts that we are doing in the political realm.” He adds, however, that security must be established now to accomplish either goal: “Without a peace to keep, peacekeeping becomes futile.”

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