Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 9 July 2004

Darfur places stress on Sudan

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By Khaled Tijani, United Press International

KHARTOUM, Sudan, July 09, 2004 (UPI) — Racial fighting in Sudan’s western province of Darfur, where Arab militias have been engaged in ethnic cleansing of African tribes, risks reverberating on the government in Khartoum as the U.S. threatens sanctions.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Sudan and refugee camps in Darfur last week, Sudanese officials promised to restore security and stability, disarm rival militias and repatriate displaced tribesmen.

John Danforth, a U.S. delegate at the United Nations, warned Sudan Friday that the government of President Omar al-Bashir has a few weeks — not months — to provide security in Darfur or face international sanctions.

"Danforth’s warning was nothing but an echo of a similar threat served by Powell during his visit to Khartoum," one observer remarked.

The Sudanese government, he said, is overwhelmed by the sudden and intense international pressures it is facing over Darfur, especially from the United States, Britain and France, in tightening the noose on Khartoum.

The observer argued that the Sudanese government was mostly dismayed by the warnings which were voiced despite commitments it made to Annan in an agreement signed last Saturday promising to fulfill international demands for restoring peace to Darfur.

Under this agreement the authorities vowed to disarm warring militias, particularly the Janjaweed, a militia of Arab origin, which was blamed for most atrocities committed in Darfur. The agreement also called for facilitating rescue operations, access to humanitarian aid, and ensuring the mission of African cease-fire observers.

They also promised to put on trial violators of human rights and reach a peaceful settlement with Darfur rebels.

"Obviously the outcome of Powell’s and Annan’s visit to Khartoum was misinterpreted and the signs that were diffused were misunderstood by the Sudanese government," the observer said.

He pointed out that Sudanese officials "wrongly understood" that Annan and Powell had good impressions after their tour of Darfur and had acknowledged the government’s efforts to restore the situation there to normalcy.

That is why they were "stunned and dismayed" by the latest U.S. warning, the observer said.

In fact, Sudanese Interior Minister Brig. Abdel Rahman Mohammed Hussein declared two days ago that Powell and Annan "expressed satisfaction over the government’s seriousness and keenness to settle the situation in Darfur."

"Obviously that impression was one sided in light of the latest escalation in Washington’s language," the observer said.

While Powell spoke of a delay of only a few weeks to settle the situation in Darfur, the agreement the Sudanese government signed with the United Nations spoke of three months to deal with the crisis, giving Khartoum the impression that it had some leeway and time to act.

"Obviously, Sudanese interpretations were different from U.S. visions in general, prompting the latter to intensify the language against Khartoum and place its credibility at stake," the observer said.

Among contradictory interpretations is the definition of the Janjaweed militia. At a time when the Americans believe that the Janjaweed meant militias drawn from Arab tribes engaged in racial cleansing against African tribes in Darfur, the Sudanese government contends that they are gangs indulging in indiscriminate robberies and killings and including militiamen belonging to both Arab and African tribes.

The government also underscores the difficulty and almost impossibility of stripping the tribes of all their arms, especially the Arab ones, which have been traditionally armed. Instead, it suggested restricting the possession of arms in Darfur and placing armed tribesmen under the command of government forces.

The suspected commander of the Janjaweed militia and leader of al-Mahameed tribe in Darfur, Sheik Mousa Hilal, had an unprecedented meeting with U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Khartoum Gerald Calucci.

Hilal, was included by Powell in a list of four wanted people he asked the Sudanese government to arrest on charges of leading the Janjaweed militia, a request which Khartoum rejected.

Hilal said after his meeting with Calucci that he explained to the U.S. diplomat many facts which he had wrong about the situation in Darfur and promised him to cooperate with the Sudanese government and the international community to achieve peace and security in the embattled province.

In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the issue of Darfur was high on the agenda of the third summit of the African Union which was attended by Annan.

Khartoum accepted a decision by the African Union to send 300 African soldiers to Darfur to protect cease-fire observers to help restore security in the province.

"The Sudanese government which previously objected to any foreign interference in Darfur, thought it was wise to accept regional military intervention in order to avoid a possible international military intervention under the umbrella of the United Nations which it feared was imminent," the observer said.

Sudan played the last card to convince the international community of its seriousness in dealing with the crisis in Darfur at the Addis Ababa summit.

In fact, President al-Bashir proposed deploying more African cease-fire observers in Darfur, gathering militiamen and rebels outside residential centers to facilitate their disarming, and speeding up the repatriation of displaced tribes. He also affirmed the need to reach a peaceful settlement.

The question remains to be answered if al-Bashir’s proposals will be heeded.



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