Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 18 October 2006

Sudan’s blindness in Darfur


By Jan Pronk

October 14, 2006
The rebel movements in Darfur are utterly divided amongst themselves. A month or two ago (weblog nr 32) I described how a number of rebel movements had emerged as splinter factions of those who started the war in 2003. The Abuja talks began with two movements: the Sudanese Liberation Front (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). At the end of the talks there were three, because the SLM had split into two factions, one of them led by Minnie Minawi, who had signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and the other by Abdul Wahid, who had refused to do so. Five months after the signing of the DPA we can count at least eight movements. Abdul Wahids faction split further into four: the SLM Free Will, which associated itself with the DPA; the SLM Classic, led by Abdul Shafei, who rejects the agreement, but seems to be more pragmatic; the G19 who revolted against Abdul Wahid in Abuja, and the remainder of the original SLM, still led by Abdul Wahid.

The JEM split into two. One of them, the JEM Peace Wing, together with the SLM Free Will, has associated itself with the DPA. The other one, still led by Khabril, remains the hard-core ideological opponent, co-financing the armed struggle by those movements which did not only refuse to sign, but are also willing to fight, despite the fact that their mother movements had signed more than one cease fire agreement.

Finally there is the New Redemption Front (NRF), a cluster of groups with quite some armed strength on the ground. They were the first to start a new battle against the Government, initially in West Kordofan, but since end July also continuously in North Darfur. The front was originated by the JEM, with armed support from the G19. In particular since the emergence of the NRF we have seen various Renversements des Alliances. Some of these were proclaimed by rebel leaders in the diaspora, including Khalil in Paris and Abdul Wahid in Asmara. Others are based on rumors. Both proclamations and rumors are frequently denounced. But there is also pragmatic cooperation between rebel groups in case of attacks by militia or by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Commanders of the SLA/Abdul Shafei told me, during my visit to the Jebel Mara last week, that they had been able to withstand an offensive by the SAF with the help of the NRF, which had directly responded to their request for assistance. Presently in the western part of North Darfur, close to the Chadian border, there is much fighting between the SAF and a combination of the G19, the JEM and the NRF. But it seems to be a rather loose coalition, because not all three components participate in all fights.

The pattern is not clear. However, some trends emerge.

First, the SAF has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles, many wounded soldiers and many taken as prisoner. The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused fighting. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development. Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are violated. The use of militia with ties with the Janjaweed recalls the events in 2003 and 2004. During that period of the conflict systematic militia attacks, supported or at least allowed by the SAF, led to atrocious crimes. Moreover, a confrontation with Chad is not impossible. It seems that SAF is receiving support from Chadian rebels on Sudanese soil, while the NRF/JEM/G19 coalition is supported by Chadian authorities.

Second, the fighting amongst rebel groups has decreased. It started soon after the signing of the DPA, in particular between SLA/Minnie Minnawi and SLA/Abdul Wahid, and also with the G19. Presently the SLA/Minnie Minnawi seems to restrict itself to a defensive posture. His forces even withdraw if there is a risk of being attacked. However, this may be only a temporary phenomenon. Further splits within the movements are bound to result in internal fights. Commanders on the ground get disconnected from each other and from the leadership of their movement. During my recent visit to the Jebel Mara I was struck by the total distrust between commanders of SLA/Abdul Wahid and SLA/Minnie Minnawi, accusing each other to take sides with ‘enemies’, including even the Government. To us, having regular and intensive contacts with all of them, this seems preposterous, but rumors are easily believed in Darfur.

Third, the Government has benefited from this rather chaotic pattern in various ways. It has been able to bar rebel groups that did not sign the DPA, including those who had given up fighting, from participating in the DPA institutions, in particular the Cease Fire Commission (CFC). In this way the Sudanese Armed Forces, together with Arab militia, can continue to attack non-signatory parties, without risking that such a violation of the DPA will be raised in the CFC, let alone condemned and sanctioned. The Government has also made use of the general confusion by making secret overtures to some of these groups, irrespective of their stance. It is also trying to persuade prominent individual members of these groups, is it intellectuals or commanders, to associate themselves with the DPA through the Government. This provides these individuals with some status – and promises. However, the result is that these people get marginalized and are regarded as enemies by the movements to which they used to belong. All this adds to the chaotic pattern at the political front.

A series of initiatives to organize a conference in order to bring the various rebel movements together is the fourth phenomenon. The SLM/Abdul Shafei wing intends to organize such a conference in the Jebel Mara, in order to re-unite the SLM and to elect a new leadership. However, Abdul Wahid refuses to participate and Minnie Minnawi will not be invited. Some Western countries try to organize a similar conference, but only for non-signatories who have not taken up arms. Western countries were the first to label non-signatories as ‘outlaws’ that should be punished for their refusal to sign. They also insisted on the exclusion of these movements from the Cease Fire Commission. This attitude may turn out to be a handicap, but this can be overcome by diplomacy and guarantees. A greater handicap, however, will be an exclusion of the still fighting parties. These parties are the core of a third effort, this time made by the Government of Eritrea. Eritrea is trying to unite all movements behind the NRF. It aims at a central role in the next stage of the peace process, like it presently is playing in the negotiations, in Asmara, about East Sudan. To many parties as well as to the Government, this initiative lacks credibility.

These are the main initiatives. As said above, the Government is taking some initiatives itself. But these seem more oriented at a strengthening of its own position by means of a divide and rule policy than by the wish to have a strong and fully representative partner in negotiations that should lead to a sustainable solution, undisputed by a third party.

In my talks in with rebel leaders and with commanders in Darfur I have stressed that the UN can only associate itself with an initiative that is fully inclusive and wholly oriented towards peace. One might aim at talks and conferences in stages, but any deal from which parties are excluded would be flawed. Any exclusion of a movement is sowing the seeds for a renewed outbreak of violence. Any conference that has as its main objective to build a stronger warring coalition, in order to expand zones under control of the movements, will only result in wrecking the DPA. It may be necessary to make a new beginning with the peace talks, in order to renovate the peace agreement and instill confidence amongst the people of Darfur, but that cannot be done starting from a wreck.

It is important to keep what has been achieved, rather than throw away the child with the bathwater. The rebel movements seem to underestimate how far the DPA, if implemented, would restrict the Government of Sudan in a possible further abuse of its power. The agreed principles and institutions of the peace agreement would also provide a credible basis for a sustainable solution of the tribal conflicts in Darfur. These are still rampant. As a matter of fact they became more violent when the tribes discovered that DPA institutions like the Cease Fire Commission, the Darfur Darfur Dialogue and the reconstruction program were lame bodies. Since June this year most of the fighting in North Darfur and the Jebel Mara took place between the movements, the SAF and militia. In South Darfur, however, the fights were mainly of a tribal character. These too led to hundreds of people killed. Many serious efforts to reconcile the tribes with the help of traditional justice systems have been initiated by the Government of South Darfur. However, as long as there is not a sustainable peace at the political front, these reconciliations are not effective. The tribal conflicts are politically motivated and the political conflict has acquired tribal dimensions, in particular since the fragmentation of the rebel movements. Tribes try to settle their accounts or to finish a job, by putting to flight the last people of other tribes who are living in an area which they claim as their homeland. Rebel factions try to strengthen their weakened position on the ground by suppressing the population. The result is new tribal conflict, because the rebels and large parts of the population do belong to different tribes. All this has led to new tragedies in Gereida (where the mainly Zaghawa oriented SLM/Minnawi forces have clashed with parts of the Massaliet), in Buram.(where the Habanya, supported by the Falata, cleansed their homeland from the Zaghawa, which had come to this region in the 1970s, after the drought in North Darfur), in Sheria (where the Zaghawa had been driven out of the town and are still denied access, despite the peace between the Government and the Zaghawa based SLA/Minnie Minawi) and in Muhajeria, where the fighting continues and nobody knows who is fighting whom and for what reason.

During my last visit to South Darfur I saw some consequences: new displacements of people, desperate, because they did not know where their future lies; growing mistrust amongst the population in authorities, in rebel commanders as well as in the African Union. They feel totally unprotected. The Government in Khartoum seems to be blind for these developments. The standard reflex in Khartoum is to deny that a battle took place, to dismiss news about tribal clashes, to discredit the messenger, to belittle the number of casualties, to sketch a rosy picture of the implementation of the peace agreement, and to blame the international community for everything that goes wrong. .

* The author is the Special Representative Secretary General of the United Nations in Sudan, Khartoum since 2004. To read more about his comments and refelxions, please visit his blog at http://www.janpronk.nl

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