After an extended deadlock, the Sudanese government has "agreed in principle" (Reuters) to a hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan convened a conference in Ethiopia on Thursday to address the region's escalating violence (AP), proposing the deployment of an international force (LAT) on the border of Chad and Sudan or a hybrid force of African Union (AU) and UN troops. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has blocked the deployment of a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping force there for the past three months. Bashir told state TV he welcomes assistance from the United Nations to strengthen the AU mission, but he did not mention (BBC) the reported agreement on a hybrid force. Darfur is currently occupied by an undermanned, underfunded African Union (AU) force lacking a mandate to protect civilians.
During the three-month stalemate, the situation in Darfur has gone from bad to worse. Arab janjaweed militias, backed by the Sudanese government, have stepped up attacks against civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of aerial bombings of civilians by Sudanese government forces. Several humanitarian organizations have pulled out of the region, closing refugee camps and leaving some 300,000 Darfurians without aid. And camps are no guarantee of protection: A Darfuri told UN envoy Jan Egeland the Janjaweed are now patrolling inside the camps, threatening the refugees (Reuters) not to stay.
Officials from various international organizations attended the summit and they had long been divided over whether and how to intervene in Darfur. The UN Security Council would like to put more pressure on Khartoum, but China, which has major oil interests in Sudan, and Russia, which sells the country arms, have slowed down any such action, said CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Princeton N. Lyman in an interview with CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman. After backing Sudan’s refusal to accept UN troops in August, the Arab League offered to send a contingent (AP) of Arab and Muslim troops to Darfur instead, a proposal Bashir also rejected. Even African countries are divided: There was heated debate (Business Day) in the Pan-African Parliament on Thursday; some countries pushed for a UN force while several Arabic-speaking countries argued the West only wants to intervene to get Sudan’s oil.
The Sudanese government has managed to hold off UN peacekeepers for so long by playing different countries against one another and using China and the Arab League as shields. At a recent CFR roundtable, Michael J. Gerson, CFR senior fellow and former speechwriter for President Bush, advocated bringing Bashir “a united front proposal that included Arabs.” Yet it remains unclear whether the summit in Ethiopia will produce such a united front. Any attempt to establish a hybrid force and advance peace talks will require a U.S. strategy (WashPost) “that guts Sudanese President Bashir's ability to argue that the U.S. intention is regime change,” write J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University’s Chester A. Crocker. A new report from the International Crisis Group advocates targeted sanctions against Sudan’s leaders, businesses, and petroleum sector, as well as deployment of a rapid-reaction force on the Chad-Sudan border.
Analysts say the governments of both Chad and Sudan would have to agree to the deployment of outside troops on the border. Relations between the two neighbors are contentious. Chad, which declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after hundreds of civilians were killed on its border with Sudan (NYT), accuses Sudan of supporting insurgents in its country. Likewise, Khartoum claims Chad abets rebels in Darfur. Given these tensions, mutual consent on a border force seems unlikely.