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The conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region increasingly threatens two neighboring countries—Chad and the Central African Republic. The Sudanese government and rebel groups signed a peace agreement in May, but violence in Darfur has escalated since then. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has barred deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur (authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1706). Meanwhile, the conflict is in a “free fall,” that includes eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic, UN Humanitarian Chief Jan Egeland recently told the Associated Press. “We have kept people alive, but we haven’t protected them,” he said. With the security situation so unstable in both Darfur and eastern Chad, aid groups are starting to withdraw from the region, leaving humanitarian assistance at its lowest since 2003 and 2004.
What is the state of humanitarian aid in each country?
- Sudan. There are 2.5 million displaced people within Darfur (PDF) dependent on the aid provided by humanitarian organizations. Faced with harassment from the Sudanese government, supply warehouse raids, and attacks on refugee camps, many of these organizations have started to evacuate their workers. In November, the Norwegian Refugee Council withdrew its staff, leaving 300,000 people without aid. In December, the United Nations started a mass evacuation, airlifting over one hundred aid workers from its own staff and other agencies from the north Darfur town of El-Fasher. "If the tension subsides we will go back in," said Dawn Blaloc, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "If it gets worse we can pull more people out” (Belfast Telegraph).
- Chad. There are some 218,000 refugees from Darfur in twelve camps in eastern Chad. The region also contains 90,000 internally displaced Chadians, and some 46,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in three camps in southern Chad, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In recent weeks, attacks by janjaweed militias on villages and NGO vehicles have increased. As a result, in six camps in the north, the United Nations has reduced its staff to a bare minimum. Lack of road access has crippled the delivery of food and other supplies.
- Central African Republic (CAR). There are at least 150,000 internationally displaced people in CAR. The weak government controls the capital, Bangai, but the rest of the country is basically a “failed state,” says Sayre Nyce, congressional advocate for Refugees International who just conducted a fact-finding mission in CAR and Chad. Yet only a handful of aid groups currently operate in CAR’s northern area. There are no American NGOs with a humanitarian mandate, and the United Nations has no permanent presence in the conflict-affected area, though its World Food Program does distribute food through an Italian NGO. Ibrahima Fall, the head of a November mission to the CAR and a UN senior special adviser (UNICEF), says the situation is “rather grim.” Villagers flee at the sound of any approaching vehicles and many have been living in the bush for the past eleven months, but “some believe the situation does not justify an energetic response because not enough people have died,” he says.
Who are the major actors and what are their motives?
- Janjaweed. Based in Darfur, these armed Arab militias, or “armed horsemen,” attack, rape, and kill civilians in Darfur, loot NGO supply warehouses and vehicles, and launch cross-border raids into Chad. Many janjaweed attacks are “purely economic,” Leslie Lefkow, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, tells Voices on Genocide Prevention. But subgroups within the militias are also motivated by racism and others have joined the janjaweed out of criminal opportunism, she says.
- Darfur rebel groups. Prior to the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, there were two main rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Experts say the agreement, which was only signed by a breakaway faction of the SLM/A led by Minni Minnawi, exacerbated divisions between the rebel groups and provoked additional fighting. In June 2006, three rebel groups—including the JEM and part of the SLM/A—joined forces to form the National Redemption Front (NRF), which opposes the May 2006 peace agreement. All Darfur’s rebel groups oppose the Sudanese government, but divisions within these groups hinder any coherent political agenda. Reports indicate Darfur’s rebel groups forcibly recruit civilians living in Chad’s refugee camps.
- Chad rebel groups. The three most significant groups are the United Front for Democratic Change (FUDC), the Arab-dominated Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), and the Zaghawa dissident group the Rally of Democratic Forces (RaFD). All three groups aim to overthrow Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, but their leaders—all from different ethnic groups—refuse to join forces and subordinate themselves to any one leader. A separate and growing rebel force in southern Chad seeks to limit the government’s control there, says a new Power and Interest News Report brief.
- Central African Republic rebel groups. The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), former fighters who helped bring President Francois Bozize to power in 2003, have taken over three towns in the northeast of the country and want Bozize to agree to power-sharing talks. Another rebel group, the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD), thought to be supporters of former president Ange Felix Patasse, seeks to overthrow Bozize. In addition, Nyce says there are bandits in the CAR’s northwest who are kidnapping children and stealing cattle and they have “no organizing structure whatsoever.”
What role does the Sudanese government play in these conflicts?
In March 2005, the United Nations referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) based on its conclusion that the Sudanese government has committed crimes against humanity. The ICC’s chief prosecutor recently reported that he will submit evidence for his first case on Darfur by February 2007. Numerous sources, including Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, corroborate reports that the Sudanese government funds and arms the janjaweed. Darfurians in the refugee camps describe Sudanese military personnel fighting alongside janjaweed militias, as well as the aerial bombing of civilians from warplanes. Khartoum denies these charges and has attempted to block the ICC’s investigations in Darfur.
Khartoum is also implicated in the conflicts unfolding in Chad and the CAR. The Chadian government has accused Khartoum of aiding its rebels. Though initially unsubstantiated, these accusations are supported today by several sources. The Sudanese government demanded Chad’s three rebel groups unite at a November military conference in El Geneina, West Darfur, reports London-based newsletter Africa Confidental, but their differences proved too great. And Chadian rebels have built a base (NYT) on CAR’s northeastern border with Sudan, according to CAR government officials. CAR claims the Sudanese government assists its rebels, which Khartoum denies. But there are “strong indications” Khartoum does support the CAR rebels, says Nyce. She cites reports of artillery driven from Sudan to northern CAR.
What role do Chad and CAR’s governments play in these conflicts?
- Chad. The Chadian government supports the Darfur rebel groups, allowing them to operate from bases within Chad in return for their assistance against the rebels trying to overthrow the Chadian president. “There is no formal agreement,” an SLA lieutenant told Human Rights Watch in May 2006, “But we have a strong bond with the Chadian military, and if Chad is attacked, we are obliged to respond.” Reports also indicate Chadian officials are complicit in forced recruitment of civilians by Darfur rebels in Chad’s refugee camps.
- Central African Republic. There are no reports linking the CAR government to conflicts outside its own borders. Within the CAR, the Presidential Guard and the Central African Armed Forces systemically burn homes and schools, says UNICEF’s Fall. Villagers report that the army often parks its vehicles a distance away from villages so it can launch surprise attacks on foot, says Refugees International.
Are there peacekeepers in the region?
- African Union troops. The African Union maintains some 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, but the force is “undermanned, understaffed, under-trained, and under-resourced,” says Roberta Cohen of the Brookings Institution in a podcast with CFR.org. At the end of November, the African Union agreed to extend the force’s mandate—which has already been extended several times—until the end of June 2007.
- FOMUC. The Central African Monetary and Economic Community maintains a force of some 380 troops in the CAR—called FOMUC—with a mandate to support the Central African Armed Forces against the CAR rebels. Experts agree the force is too small to stabilize the region.
- French troops. There are some three hundred French troops in the CAR under a 2003 military accord, and one thousand French troops on the Chad/Sudan border. In the CAR, French troops assist with intelligence, logistics, and air support (French fighter aircraft carry out reconnaissance missions in Chad and the CAR). Experts say French troops have prevented Chadian rebels from seizing Ndjamena, and Chad’s stability helps France maintain its influence in the region.
What are the prospects for resolving these conflicts?
As long as Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir continues to refuse a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1706, not good. Bashir has successfully resisted UN peacekeepers—and a “hybrid” AU/UN force proposed in November—for nearly six months by appearing to negotiate with international parties and exploiting rifts in the UN Security Council. There are signs that some members of the international community might take a harder line: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has backed imposing a no-fly zone over Sudan, and fifteen former foreign ministers recently proposed targeted sanctions against Sudan in a Financial Times op-ed. But it’s unclear whether these measures, if implemented, would be effective. “No one can guarantee what will work with a regime as tough-minded and inscrutable as Sudan’s, but patient diplomacy and trust in Khartoum’s good faith has been a patent failure,” says an International Crisis Group report. Even if Bashir approves some version of a UN force, some—citing the low spare troop capacity among the United States and European nations—have expressed concern that there may not be enough peacekeepers available. Barring that hurdle, it would still take months for the peacekeepers to arrive on the ground. Jane Holl Lute, UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, estimates six months is needed for planning and deployment of such a force.
A December Security Council report suggests the possibility of UN-led peace talks in both Chad and the CAR But some question how effective such talks would be in the absence of movement on Darfur. “As long as the problem of Darfur is not solved, you will not have peace in Ndjamena or Bangui,” Lamine Cisse, the top UN official in the CAR, told the New York Times. “The conflicts are all linked, and solving one requires solving all.”