Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 15 May 2007

UN Security Council Resolution 1706, August 31, 2006

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Eight and a half months after passage of Resolution 1706, the African Union force in Darfur is “on the verge of collapse,” the security crisis has entered its most dangerous phase, and there is no prospect of a significant UN presence

By Eric Reeves

May 14, 2007 — On August 31, 2006, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1706, authorizing a peace support operation for Darfur consisting of 22,500 UN troops, civilian police, and Formed Police Units. The force was to deploy “rapidly” under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (which confers enforcement authority), with an explicit mandate to protect civilians as well as humanitarians and humanitarian operations. The force was also to establish a “multidimensional presence” to “improve the security situation in the neighboring regions along the borders between the Sudan and Chad and between the Sudan and the Central African Republic.” Urgently and robustly deployed, such a force could have done much to avert massive human displacement and destruction.

Instead, in mid-May 2007---eight and a half months after passage of Resolution 1706---fewer than 200 UN technical personnel have deployed to assist the African Union force, the only international military presence currently tasked with protecting some 4.5 million conflict-affected civilians in the greater humanitarian theater of Darfur and eastern Chad. More than 2.5 million people have been displaced within this ravaged region, almost 300,000 since the passage of Resolution 1706. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have died in this unconscionably long period of inaction, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have already perished (see my two-part Darfur mortality assessment of April 2006 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article102.html and http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article104.html).

Nor is there is any prospect of significant additional UN deployment for months. Indeed, there is currently no forward motion in bolstering the AU force: Khartoum’s obdurate defiance of UN deployment and the regime’s well-documented pattern of reneging on agreements; AU political insistence that it retain command of forces on the ground in Darfur, even as its command structure and abilities are severely criticized by military experts; international disarray among the Western democracies; and a glaring lack of effective leadership at the UN---all work to ensure that the security situation in Darfur will continue its precipitous and increasingly threatening collapse.

Humanitarian organizations remain poised to evacuate, withdraw, or suspend operations. At the end of April 2007, Oxfam/UK, Save the Children/Spain, and Mercy Corps withdrew from the Um Dhukun area in West Darfur. Coming in the wake of violent attacks on aid workers in the area, this action immediately affected 100,000 civilians, including refugees from Chad and Central African Republic. At the same time, Associated Press (dateline: el-Geneina, West Darfur) reported that:

“Residents and international workers in the area [of el-Geneina] estimated that over half of government forces here are now infiltrated by [Janjaweed] militiamen. The Khartoum government denies supporting the janjaweed and calls them bandits they cannot control.” (April 24, 2007)

The next day (April 25, 2007), Reuters reported (again with an el-Geneina dateline) the assessment of a Rwandan officer with the AU in West Darfur:

“The African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in West Darfur told the United Nations on Wednesday [April 25, 2007] that Arab militias were killing and pillaging in the region without arrests by the Sudanese authorities. [ ] ‘Arab militias believed to be employed by the (Sudanese government)...roam freely in our area of responsibility, threatening and killing anybody against the interests of the government,’ [Major Harry Soko] told Antonio Guterres, the visiting UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”

Soko also noted that “the presence of Sudanese rebel groups in his area had also led to conflict and hundreds of deaths in the past several months.”

Camps for displaced persons throughout Darfur have long been cauldrons of rage, deprivation, and despair, and are now increasingly politicized---often along ethnic lines---and increasingly awash in arms. The Janjaweed militias, Khartoum’s primary weapon of civilian destruction, lurk ominously and frequently assault, murder, and rape camp residents. The likelihood of full-scale massacres in the camps has increased dramatically, particularly with the prospect that international witnesses, including the AU, will be forced by insecurity to abandon locations throughout Darfur.

Such an ominous withdrawal was the clear implication of statements from both UN and AU officials, who very recently declared that “the beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is on the verge of collapse” (Washington Post [dateline: UN/New York], May 13, 2007). While such public statements are in one sense newsworthy---truly frank assessments of the AU have been painfully scarce over the past year---the continuous decline in AU ability to protect civilians and humanitarians, indeed to protect themselves, has long been evident (see my overview of a series of authoritative assessments of the AU force in November 2005; “Ghosts of Rwanda: The Failure of the AU in Darfur,” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article535-p1.html and http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article534-p1.html). The radical shortcomings of the AU, and the inability of the AU Peace and Security Council to provide anything remotely adequate to security needs in Darfur, have only become more conspicuous over the past year and a half.

Here it must be said that the UN, Western democracies, as well as the Arab League, Japan, and other powerful Asian countries have been scandalously laggard in funding the AU, and there is no doubt that this force could have operated much more effectively with additional resources. But it is also true that the AU has highly limited abilities to absorb efficiently many critical resources. Administrative capacity at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa is dismal; accounting is distinctly unorthodox; the command structure of the AU force on the ground comes in for universal condemnation by military experts; there is a strong disinclination to accept the help of Western military advisors. Coupled with very poor logistics and transport capacity, extremely weak communications and intelligence-gathering, a lack of operating cohesion among AU units, and disastrous morale, it’s not hard to see why the AU is “on the verge of collapse,” and thus why security is so precarious in Darfur.

For precisely this reason Khartoum cleaves to its insistence that any force in Darfur be an AU force, with the UN providing only technical, logistical, and financial support. This has been obscured by a good deal of misinformed and disingenuous commentary about what was secured from the Khartoum regime in April 2007 by way of “agreement” on accepting the UN’s so-called “heavy support package” (see my April 18, 2007 analysis of what has and has not been achieved with this putative “breakthrough,” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article162.html). In fact, there is good reason to believe that the UN “heavy support package” will never materialize in the terms currently being reported, and may devolve into a minor contribution to a force in the process of evacuating.

This “heavy support package,” frequently reported as including more than 3,000 “UN troops,” is notionally the second “phase” of the “three-phase plan” developed during a “High Level Consultation on Darfur” at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa last fall (November 16, 2006). But the result of the “High Level Consultation” was not an agreement, and most certainly not an agreement on the essential “third phase”: an actual force of 20,000 troops and civilian police that all agree is the minimum necessary to stabilize the security situation in Darfur, and very likely insufficient without substantial contributions from the most militarily capable nations. The “Conclusions” document from the November 16, 2006 Addis “Consultation” (which bore no signatures and left key issues and numbers to be determined later), speaks only of an AU/UN “hybrid operation,” not a “hybrid force.” In cleaving to the former phrase, in all communications with the UN, and in all public statements, the Khartoum regime is insisting that there be no UN troop component in the actual deploying force. Given the paucity of available AU troops, this ensures that insecurity will remain at intolerable levels throughout Darfur and eastern Chad.

And the “heavy support package” that is being celebrated as an interim victory, following prolonged and tortuous negotiations with the Khartoum regime, needs to be seen for what it is. Here the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (dateline: UN/New York) yet again proves its unique worth as a source of detailed information about Darfur:

“The [heavy support] package will include a signals unit, communications unit, and logistics staff who will be deployed as part of the 2,250 military personnel. No infantry will be deployed, but the personnel include helicopter pilots, and military tactical staff, among others. Currently, the UN is holding meetings with troop-contributing countries to determine who would be willing to send personnel to Darfur.”

"‘The troops should be predominantly African,’ said [AU Commissioner Alpha Oumar] Konare. ‘If this is not possible, we will look---with the approval of the Sudanese government---outside the continent.’ A contingent of 301 police officers will be deployed, along with 1,136 civilian personnel to work on human rights issues, humanitarian affairs and civilian logistics, among other proposals. But only 150 civilian workers will be international staff.”

This is not the description of a force that can change in significant ways the ability of the force on the ground to conduct an appropriate number of patrols, or to secure the camps, or protect humanitarian corridors, operations, and personnel. It is a force that makes sense only in the context of a large follow-on force of armed soldiers and a much larger contingent of civilian police. And it is here that no progress whatsoever can be reported in negotiations with the obdurate Khartoum regime. Nor again is there any indication that the AU has the capacity to mount such a force with these specific qualifications, especially given the demands of a new operation in Somalia.

Most consequentially, a role for actual UN forces is still far from settled. Numerous comments from senior National Islamic Front officials continue to make clear that in Khartoum’s view the UN role will consist exclusively in providing logistics, technical assistance, and financing. The Sudan Tribune ([dateline: Khartoum] April 19, 2007) reports:

“Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir denied reports that his country accepted 3,000 UN troops in Darfur. Al-Bashir told a US press delegation yesterday that his government has only agreed to a ‘supporting force of UN technicians and engineers.’ Sudan’s leader stressed that the ‘troop command will be in the hands of the African Union.’”

Reuters reports ([dateline: Khartoum], April 22, 2007):

“Khartoum has said these [heavy support package] personnel would only provide logistical support for the AU force and insisted African troops will dominate any peacekeeping mission in Darfur.”

The Sudan Tribune dispatch also reports comments of Khartoum’s ambassador to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem: “[Abdalhaleem] told reporters on Monday [April 16, 2007] that ‘according to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), there is no provision for the UN in any way’ and went on to say that the ‘the command is fully for the African leader of the African commander and African forces.’”

As Voice of America reported from the UN after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expediently celebrated “agreement” with Khartoum on the “heavy support package”:

“But no sooner had [Ban Ki-moon’s] optimistic words been spoken than Sudan’s UN envoy appeared to contradict the terms of the agreement. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem suggested to reporters that Khartoum had not agreed to allow blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers in Darfur. ‘The issue of the UN is that, according to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), there is no provision for the UN in any way,’ he said. ‘It is only for the African Union to implement with the Sudanese authorities and the rebel groups the DPA.’” (Voice of America [dateline: UN/New York], April 17, 2007)

Of course none of this has prevented an increasingly expedient Bush administration from mischaracterizing what has been achieved. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who has performed with disastrous incompetence and a dismaying lack of honesty in addressing the Darfur crisis, declared in a “open letter to the American people” (May 10, 2007):

“The plan [i.e., the November 16, 2006 Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document] calls for the UN to provide AU troops first with technical support, and then with additional UN troops, known as the AU/UN “hybrid” forces. After initially rejecting the second phase of UN support, President Bashir has now agreed to allow 3,000 UN troops and their equipment into the country to support the African Union force.”

This is deliberately misleading on several counts. Again, the “Conclusions” document Frazer refers to is not an agreement, and specifically excludes the phrase UN/AU “hybrid force” and contains only the phrase UN/AU “hybrid operation.” Given Khartoum’s repeated public statements, it is disingenuous of Frazer to suggest there is not decisive difference between an “operation” and a “force.” Nor has al-Bashir accepted 3,000 UN troops, as the detailed IRIN dispatch makes clear, emphasizing as it does the absence of infantry units among the UN personnel. Nor does Frazer note Khartoum’s resistance to the third “phase” of the Addis Ababa “plan”---the force of 20,000 troops and civilian police. She notes only Khartoum’s rejection of Resolution 1706. But it was precisely this rejection that necessitated the three-phased Addis Ababa plan, the third phase of which is the force that Khartoum refuses even to discuss.

REALITIES

The Washington Post dispatch ([dateline: UN/New York, May 13, 2007) offers a sobering contrast to Bush administration mendacity:

“The African Union’s first major peacekeeping mission---once considered the last line of defense for Darfur’s civilians---has been crippled by funding and equipment shortages, government harassment and an upsurge in armed attacks by rebel forces that last month [April 2007] left seven African troops dead.”

“The setbacks have sapped morale among peacekeepers, many of whom have not been paid for months. It has also compelled the force---which numbered 7,000 troops at its peak---to scale back its patrols and has diminished its capacity to protect civilians, aid workers and its own peacekeepers. In one example, Gambian troops last month failed to aid a Ghanaian peacekeeper who was gunned down in a carjacking incident within 300 yards of the mission’s Darfur headquarters, UN officials said.”

“The crisis comes as the Sudanese government has renewed aerial bombardment in Darfur. And it has raised serious concerns among UN planners and outside experts about the viability of plans to deploy a joint UN and AU peacekeeping mission of up to 20,000 troops. Some governments that have committed to send troops and equipment to Darfur are either balking or failing to make good on their pledges [Egypt is a notable example---ER]. ‘The risk is great that everything will collapse,’ African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare warned last month during Darfur talks in New York.” [ ]

“[The AU mission in Darfur] has been plagued for several months by chronic shortages of funds and supplies, forcing members to patrol in jeeps without radio communications and borrow soap and food from private charities and UN humanitarian agencies. Last month, five Senegalese soldiers were gunned down by followers of the Sudanese Liberation Army faction headed by rebel leader Minni Minawi, according to Senegalese and AU officials. Others have been beaten and robbed. One AU officer has been detained since December.”

It is important here to note that both AU and Senegalese officials cite the forces of Minni Minawi as responsible for the attack that killed five Senegalese peacekeepers. Minawi’s men have also been authoritatively identified as those responsible for the brutal attack last December against humanitarian aid works in the vast Gereida displaced persons camp (well south of Nyala, capital of South Darfur), attacks that forced two key humanitarian organizations to withdraw. Evacuation by Oxfam and Action Contre La Faim has left only the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide assistance for the world’s largest concentration of displaced persons, some 125,000 human beings. Indeed, although violent attacks in Darfur can be attributed to various armed forces---the Janjaweed, Khartoum’s regular ground and air forces, bandits, warlords, and rebel factions---the vast majority of the abuses by rebels are committed by Minawi’s men. It is all too telling that Minawi was the only rebel leader to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement.

The Washington Post dispatch also notes:

“Rwanda and Senegal have warned that they may withdraw if they do not receive financial support for the mission from Western donors. ‘What is the purpose of having them there just to sit in the sun,’ Rwandan President Paul Kagame told Reuters last week. ‘Things are not good, and the international community needs to act.’”

Senegalese troops are among the best of the AU force, and Rwandan forces are the critical backbone to the entire AU operation in Darfur. Their withdrawal would immediately collapse the entire mission, which has a mandate that extends only to the end of June 2007. At the same time, transition to a UN or even a hybrid AU/UN force poses extremely serious problems that are far from resolution. The Washington Post reports further:

“The deteriorating situation has aggravated a dispute between Khartoum, the African Union and the United Nations over who would lead and fund the expanded peacekeeping mission. The groups reached a compromise last month that provides for UN command of the overall UN mission in Sudan, with the African Union commanding operations in Darfur. But Norway and Sweden, the only European nations that have expressed interest in participating in the Darfur mission, have rejected the accord. ‘We are not members of the African Union; we are members of the United Nations,’ said Raymond Johansen, Norway’s deputy foreign minister. ‘It will not be easy for our troops to report to an African Union commander.’”

Despite a manifest inability to provide adequately trained manpower or the resources and skills of the UN Department of Peacekeeping operations, the AU stubbornly clings to leadership of a failing mission, a mission that will fail catastrophically without UN leadership and troops, and which must include significant contributions from highly militarily capable member states:

“[AU Commissioner] Konare, meanwhile, has indicated that the African Union wants the United Nations to fund the expanded mission in Darfur but play a subservient role in running the mission. But wealthy donors are unlikely to accept the financial burden unless the United Nations administers the mission, UN officials said.”

THE AFRICAN UNION AND KHARTOUM

Privately, close observers of Konaré’s recent mission to the UN are appalled at both the arrogance of the AU under present desperate circumstances, as well as Konaré’s accommodating attitude toward Khartoum. One disgusted observer noted,

“There’s a lack of confidence in the AU’s ability to manage [the Darfur mission], even within Africa; yet the AU leadership that just visited New York is still singing a different song from the UN and pushing for continued full AU control of the mission (with UN funding).”

“At the meeting at the African Union consulate on Monday [April 16, 2007] in New York, Konaré was asking AU members to publish something celebrating the Government of Sudan for agreeing to Phase 2; Konaré even allowed the Sudanese Permanent Representative [to the UN] to chair the meeting.” (email correspondence from participant in various UN/AU meetings, received April 18, 2007)

Here we should recall the words of Khartoum’s “Permanent Representative” to the UN on “Phase 2” (the “heavy support package”):

“Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem suggested to reporters that Khartoum had not agreed to allow blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers in Darfur. ‘The issue of the UN is that, according to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), there is no provision for the UN in any way,’ he said. ‘It is only for the African Union to implement with the Sudanese authorities and the rebel groups the DPA.’” (Voice of America [dateline: UN/New York], April 17, 2007)

Here we should also recall some other recent words from Khartoum’s Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem:

[1] When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon very recently condemned Khartoum for its continued indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian targets, and “strongly urged the Government of Sudan to cease all attacks and to comply fully with the Darfur Peace Agreement, Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law,” Ambassador Abdalhaleem “told Reuters he had informed Ban the reports were untrue and had been spread by people out to torpedo peace talks. He had chided the UN chief for not checking with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], May 9, 2007).

The suggestion that Field Marshal al-Bashir is a font of truth about Darfur is both shameless and utterly preposterous.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provided detailed accounts of the aerial attacks Ambassador Abdalhaleem dismisses as untrue and mischievous propaganda:

“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today [May 11, 2007] described as ‘indiscriminate’ a series of deadly aerial bombardments across the North Darfur region of Sudan and said there were many civilian casualties. OHCHR said it has learned that the attacks were carried out near El Fasher, North Darfur with helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft between 19 and 29 April [2007], killing and wounding civilians and destroying property, school buildings and livestock. ‘The bombardments appeared to have been indiscriminate and disproportionate, failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets,’ Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas said. ‘The disproportionate use of force constitutes violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,’ she added.”

“In one incident that was cited by the Secretary-General in his statement, the school in the village of Um Rai was struck by rockets fired from a Government helicopter. Some of the 170 pupils in the school were injured in that attack, with two civilians killed in the attack on the village. The OHCHR spokesman identified four other villages attacked during the period....” (UN News Service [dateline: UN/New York], May 11, 2007)

Again, these detailed reports are dismissed by Ambassador Abdalhaleem as untrue and mischievous propaganda. And it is Ambassador Abdalhaleem whom the AU Commissioner invited to Chair the meeting at the AU consulate in New York.

[2] In a carefully researched assessment of the arms flow into Darfur, Amnesty International recently published an important report (“Sudan: Arms continuing to fuel serious human rights violations in Darfur,” May 8, 2007) whose central findings include:

“Arms, ammunition and related equipment are still being transferred to Darfur in the west of Sudan for military operations in which extremely serious violations and abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law are committed by the Sudanese government, the government-backed Janjawid militias and armed opposition groups.”

“This report describes the arming process and its effects on the people of Darfur and neighbouring eastern Chad, many of whom have been forcibly displaced. It provides details of violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Darfur that occurred during January to March 2007. Amongst other things, it shows how the Government of Sudan violates the UN arms embargo and disguises some of its military logistics operations in Darfur, and what arms supplied to Sudan from China and Russia---two Permanent Members of the Security Council---have been used for violations of the Security Council’s own mandatory arms embargo.” (full report at http://web.amnesty.org/pages/sdn-080507-news-eng)

Further details are included in an Associated Press dispatch from Cairo (May 8, 2007):

“A top human rights group accused China and Russia on Tuesday [May 8, 2007] of violating a UN arms embargo by supplying Sudan with weapons and equipment that were used to fuel deadly violence against civilians in Darfur and neighboring Chad. Moscow and Beijing, which have balked at US and British efforts to put new pressure on their trade ally Sudan, quickly rejected Amnesty International’s allegations.”

"‘The irresponsible transfer of arms to Sudan and its neighbors are a significant factor in the massive human rights catastrophe in Darfur and its spread into eastern Chad,’ London-based Amnesty said in a statement. The rights group said China and Russia---two of the five permanent Security Council members---should have been aware that their military equipment was ‘deployed by the Sudanese armed forces and militia for direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks in Darfur.’ Amnesty said it was particularly concerned about Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships acquired by the Sudan air force that were allegedly being used to launch attacks in Darfur. The report included a photo, allegedly from March [2007], of three Chinese ‘Fantan fighter jets on the tarmac of an airport in Nyala in southern Darfur.’ It said the aircraft were ‘specifically designed to be used for ground attack operations.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Cairo], May 8, 2007)

Additionally, the BBC notes that the Amnesty International report contains “photographic evidence of the Sudanese air force using military aircraft in Darfur.” (BBC, May 8, 2007)

The response of Ambassador Abdalhaleem?

“‘Our reaction to the Amnesty International allegations is very easy---it is a total rejection as it is baseless and unfounded,’ he told the BBC. ‘These photos may be a plane in the Central African Republic or may be for one in south Sudan, but it is not in Darfur at all. We are not on combat missions in Darfur at all.’” (BBC, May 8, 2007)

Abdalhaleem’s denial of all combat missions comes at the very time the UN and the AU are reporting overwhelming evidence of precisely such missions. How can AU Commissioner Konaré accord distinctions and accolades to a man and a regime engaged in this most vicious mendacity concerning violent civilian destruction?

[3] When in April 2007 a UN Panel of Experts on Darfur presented definitive evidence of Khartoum’s disguising its military aircraft to resemble those of the UN, Ambassador Abdalhaleem seemed almost to relish his task of mendacity:

“Sudan accused a UN panel on Thursday [April 19, 2007] of trying ‘to settle political scores’ by fabricating claims that the government was conducting bombing raids in conflict-wracked Darfur and disguising planes to look like UN’s aircraft. Sudan’s UN Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem insisted that photos in the panel’s report of a white plane with ‘UN’ marked on its wings were taken in neighboring Chad or other African countries---not in Darfur.” [ ]

“The ambassador told reporters the [UN Panel of Experts on Darfur] report was leaked this week by ‘the enemies of peace and stability’ in the country to destroy ‘the very good atmosphere’ created after Sudan agreed to the first significant deployment of UN peacekeepers to Darfur to beef up beleaguered African troops in the vast western region. ‘It’s a fabricated report,’ Abdelhaleem said. ‘They want to overshadow this.... They want all this sensation. They want to settle political scores. They are not interested at all in peace and security in Sudan.’” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], April 20, 2007)

Of course there is not a shred of evidence adduced, not any conceivable motive for a UN Panel of Experts to “settle political scores.” Indeed, what “political scores” there are for this international panel, with quite diverse backgrounds, is entirely unclear.

The Associated Press dispatch continued:

“On a map of Darfur, the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur report] showed over 100 black dots where it said incidents of ‘aerial bombardment’ had taken place between October and January. Asked who else but the government could be responsible for the bombings, Abdelhaleem said: ‘These are big lies, big lies.’ He accused the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur] of including the map ‘to make some people in this area happy.’ ‘They want to hear this music---that Sudan did that, the government did that, they bombed here, they killed there. This is the music that is very much enjoyed by some people here,’ Abdelhaleem said.”

These are the lies of a man deranged; they represent a manic, uncontrolled mendacity. But such mendacity, a pattern of shameless lying, is how Khartoum conducts itself on the world stage at every moment, in the face of every crime, no matter how overwhelming the evidence. And while at the UN in New York we may simply register our intense dismay at the coziness of AU Commissioner Konaré with such evil, in Sudan and Darfur there is cause for the utmost concern. This is the significance of accusations made in the “SudanVision Daily” (Khartoum’s chief propaganda organ) on May 12, 2007:

“The [Khartoum regime’s] Humanitarian Aid Commission demanded UN to interrogate UN Mission in Sudan Spokesperson Radhia Achouri for the statements she made Wednesday [May 9, 2007] accusing the Sudanese government of violating the Humanitarian Aid Facilitation Agreement (HAFA), the Humanitarian Aid Commissioner told Sudan Vision.”

Given the sensitivity of the issue of humanitarian access, we may be sure that Ms. Achouri, who has an extraordinarily difficult job as UN spokeswoman in balancing the claims of truth and the dangers of speaking the truth to a hostile regime, is saying only what is true. The SudanVision Daily continues:

“In a statement issued yesterday, the Commissioner of Humanitarian Aid, Hasabu Mohamed Abdurrahman accused Achouri of giving misleading information that negatively reflect on the humanitarian conditions in Darfur, demanding Achouri to refrain from politicizing the issue.”

Again, all this means is that rendering an accurate account of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and Khartoum’s ongoing obstruction of relief efforts, is simply not tolerable. We catch a glimpse of the nature of the particular mendacity informing Khartoum’s propaganda machine on this occasion when we read still later in the same Sudan Vision Daily account:

“The [Humanitarian Aid Commission] statement further denied some population sectors do not have access to humanitarian assistance by the government, WFP and the Red Cross.”

But of course the grim truth is that the UN now estimates approximately 1 million civilians are completely beyond the range of humanitarian relief, and more than 1 million other conflict-affected civilians have only the most tenuous access to humanitarian assistance. Carefully constructed, and continually evolving maps of humanitarian access reveal the geographic dimensions of the access crisis (see for example the March 30, 2007 “Darfur Humanitarian Access Map” from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/doc404?OpenForm&emid=ACOS-635PJQ).

CONSEQUENCES OF RELYING ON THE AFRICAN UNION

Khartoum’s mendacity may not trouble the likes of AU Commissioner Konaré, though it is certainly the case that many in Africa distrust his judgment on the AU’s ability to respond to the Darfur crisis. But mendacity cannot obscure the realities that are a function of intolerable levels of insecurity in Darfur and eastern Chad. And these realities make painfully, shamefully clear how badly we have betrayed the people of Darfur.

Operational humanitarian organizations have become increasingly outspoken, and none more so than Oxfam. The Times of London ([dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], May 9, 2005) reports:

“‘Compared to a year ago the situation in Darfur is much, much worse and we’re finding it increasingly dangerous to work,’ Alun McDonald, of Oxfam, said. ‘The number of attacks on aid workers has rocketed and the region is increasingly lawless and volatile.’”

Between June 2006 and January 2007, 12 humanitarian aid workers were killed in attacks throughout Darfur.

The Independent (UK) also reports from Nyala (May 3, 2007) on the intolerable level of insecurity faced by humanitarian workers:

“One year on from a much-heralded peace deal for Darfur, aid agencies have been forced to roll back operations and are facing an unprecedented level of attacks on personnel, according to United Nations maps seen by The Independent. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was struck in May last year amid much fanfare in Abuja, Nigeria. But only one of the three main rebel factions signed it and the already dire situation in Darfur has worsened. The number of people in the region known to be affected by the conflict is almost four million, according to the UN. Of those, 900,712 cannot be reached by humanitarian workers.”

"‘We are on the brink,’ said Oxfam’s Alun McDonald. ‘In terms of violent attacks on aid workers things are worse than they have ever been in Darfur. Access to the people in need is at the lowest point since 2004. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do our job. We are still completely committed to staying but unless we see an improvement there is always the risk that the whole operation could collapse.’”

“The UN’s humanitarian access maps reveal the dramatic scale of the insecurity. The map dated 17 May 2006, just 12 days after the signing of the DPA, shows just three areas where it was impossible for aid agencies to operate---Kulbus in northwestern Darfur, parts of the mountainous Jebel Marra region in central Darfur and a small enclave around El Taweisha in the east. By 13 March this year [2007]---the last time the UN produced a humanitarian access map---the amount of territory considered unsafe for aid workers had quadrupled. Swaths of north, south and west Darfur which were once seen as safe now have only limited humanitarian access.”

“There are 14,000 aid workers and more than 80 agencies in Darfur, but the insecurity is forcing aid organisations to suspend operations across the region, with many actively considering whether they can continue to operate.”

“Delivering aid to Darfur’s displaced is becoming increasingly difficult as aid workers come under attack from rebels, Arab militias and bandits. ‘In the past they would stop your car and steal a satellite phone,’ said one humanitarian official. ‘Now, they shoot to kill.’ In the first two weeks of April [2007], eight humanitarian vehicles were hijacked---two of them belonging to the UN. There were a further four car hijack attempts. Five convoys of humanitarian vehicles were ambushed. There were two attempted break-ins at humanitarian compounds---one was successful, the other failed. There was one shooting incident at a humanitarian compound and four physical assaults on guards.”

“Sudan’s government is continuing to arm groups across the region, say analysts. The proliferation of heavy weapons, including Rocket Propelled Grenades and mortars, allied to the complete lack of law and order, has led to the increase in violence.”

CBS News reports ([dateline: Kartum, Darfur], May 2, 2007):

“‘There are towns where we used to have nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and UN [organizations] that have been abandoned because things are so insecure.... For me things have gotten worse and worse,’ Chris Czerwinski of the [UN] World Food Programme in North Darfur. For now, helicopters are the only safe way to get around Darfur. But $27 million is needed to keep them flying through the end of the year.”

Even the intrepid International Committee of the Red Cross, which has maintained the greatest presence in rural Darfur in a heroic effort to keep people on their lands and out of the camps, is confronting a security crisis that may eventually force it to withdraw from certain locations:

“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the security situation in Sudan’s conflict-ridden province of Darfur continues to worsen and getting access to people in remote villages is getting harder. [ ] ICRC communications officer Jessica Barry has just completed a one-year mission in Sudan. She [says] that Red Cross aid workers regularly talk to all the various warring factions to try to make them understand that civilians must be protected. Unfortunately, she says, the message does not always get across. ‘What is the real concern is that the more that this very difficult security situation continues and the more people are not able to return to their villages, finally, of course, they will have no choice but to migrate to the camps,’ she said. ‘Now the camps are already very full and this is a big concern.’”

And of the vast Gereida camp in South Darfur, ICRC delegate Barry says:

“Red Cross presence in the camp is not unconditional. If the security guarantees break down and something terrible was to happen, she says Red Cross workers might be forced to leave. She says she does not like to think of what would happen to the more than 100,000 displaced people in the camp if no one were there to look after them.” (Voice of America [dateline: Geneva], April 21, 2007)

Notable in this context, in which the ICRC’s Barry speaks of the displaced persons camps as “already very full,” is a recent announcement by a Khartoum regime spokesman:

“Humanitarian Aid Commissioner of North Darfur State, Ibrahim Hamid, ruled out any intention to build new camps to accommodate new displaced people, but according to him, a technical committee has been set up to extend the already existing camps in case of more flow. In a statement to Sudan Vision he said that the last group of displaced people arrived in the camps at the end of December 2006.” (SudanVision Daily [Khartoum], April 22, 2007)

Of course this is yet more dangerous mendacity from the National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) regime, as current UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes reported in a Statement to the UN Security Council (April 4, 2007),

“Over the past six months, nearly a quarter of a million more innocent civilians have been forced to abandon their homes, seeking refuge mainly from Government-supported militia attacks. They have fled to camps in all three Darfur states, in many cases to camps that were already beyond capacity.”

And at the same time that insecurity for humanitarian organizations is attenuating access, human needs are also increasing. As Darfur enters the “hunger gap,” the period between spring planting and fall harvest, there are a number of ominous indicators. Malnutrition is of particular concern in advance of the “hunger gap”:

“Malnutrition is on the rise again in Darfur, where more fighting and less money are eroding progress, the UN children’s fund said Wednesday [May 3, 2007]. ‘We need to raise the alarm bell,’ said Ted Chaiban, head of UNICEF’s mission to Sudan. ‘We’re losing ground. We need to stop this deterioration.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], May 3, 2007)

Children are also directly and disproportionately affected by violence, as the “Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict” recently reported:

“Children in Darfur are enduring ‘unspeakable acts of violence and abuse’ from killing and rape to abduction, torture and recruitment as fighters in the escalating four-year conflict in Sudan’s vast western region, a report said. The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict report released Wednesday [April 18, 2007] accused the Sudanese government of ‘apparent deliberate efforts ... to suppress information and prevent agencies from collecting and disseminating details on attacks against children and their protection needs, particularly in Darfur’ and eastern Sudan.”

“The report said humanitarian agencies have documented cases of armed groups shooting, mutilating and torturing children, abducting and gang-raping girls, and recruiting and using youngsters as combatants. While the Sudanese armed forces continue to deny the presence of children in their units, the Watchlist said representatives acknowledge that children from other armed groups have recently been incorporated into the government’s military forces.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], April 19, 2007)

The broadest assessment of international reliance on the African Union in Darfur, and the failure to make good on the implicit promise of protection entailed in UN Security Council Resolution 1706, was recently offered by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres:

“The international community’s efforts to improve security in Darfur have been a ‘total failure,’ despite some success in easing the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn Sudanese region, the United Nations’ top refugee official said Tuesday [May 1, 2007]. [ ] Guterres said ‘if there has been a very important success ... in humanitarian relief, I think there has been a total failure in relation to protection and security.’” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], May 1, 2007)

There can be little quarreling with this assessment; indeed, it comports entirely with what the former UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, had forcefully insisted upon before the world community for three years.

A PEACE PROCESS FOR DARFUR?

Is there a substitute for robust international military protection of Darfur’s civilians, as well as for the humanitarians who labor heroically to provide them with critically needed food, medical care, and resources for clean water? In the short term, the answer is clearly no. For the longer term, there must of course be a peace---a just peace, with adequate compensation, fair representation, and guaranteed security for those who wish to begin the arduous process of resuming agriculturally productive lives. But peace is a long, long way off. Indeed, there is no credible peace process underway and the international community seems confused and divided on how to proceed. There is no clear focus for diplomatic energies, nor any sign that Khartoum is prepared to do anything but exploit the present chaos to maximum effect in preserving a grim genocide by attrition.

The most useful recent overview of the prospects for peace comes in the form of a report from the International Crisis Group (“Darfur: Revitalizing the Peace Process,” April 30, 2007, at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4769&l=1). This lucid and detailed account takes a comprehensive view of the difficult issues outstanding in the wake of the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, May 2006), the divisions within rebel ranks, the various regional actors, domestic Sudanese politics, and the relation of peace in Darfur to peace in southern Sudan, demonstrating yet again that the two are inextricably bound together. The report deserves close and attentive reading, especially by the Bush administration, which is presently led by the unskilled (and half-time) diplomatic lightweight Andrew Natsios. This is especially true since useful assistance from the State Department seems virtually non-existent.

But as cogent as the ICG report is in outlining the difficulties for a peace process that will inevitably take many months, some of the most acute observations have bearing on the immediate security crisis.

Speaking of the Khartoum regime (the “National Congress Party” [NCP]), ICG notes the ruling junta has,

“sought to present a thin veneer of Darfur Peace Agreement implementation, coupled with rhetoric about regional peace, while pursuing simultaneously three deadly policies. These are first, to undermine the rebellion and stability in the region through divide-and-rule tactics, such as incitement of tribal groups and militias, and unilateral negotiations with field commanders and senior rebels, particularly in and around Jebel Marra. Secondly, the regime continues to pursue a military strategy aimed at defeating the rebels, despite evidence that the war is not winnable and with disregard for devastating civilian consequences. Thirdly, the National Congress Party continues to block an effective international role, doing just enough to escape meaningful sanctions, without actually changing its policies, particularly on deployment of the hybrid AU/UN force.” (page 6)

The “divide-and-rule tactics” referred to here are confirmed in an important dispatch from Jebel Marra by The Independent (UK):

“The divide-and-rule policy in Darfur has intensified following the signing of last year’s peace agreement. The factions of the SLA which backed the peace deal have been rewarded with weapons and power. ‘It is not only divide and rule---it is divide and destroy,’ said Hamid Ali Nur, a Darfur expert. ‘The government is continuing to create this conflict by giving money and arms to different groups.’” (April 30, 2007)

This extravagant use of national wealth to fund inter-ethnic and inter-tribal violence has been one of the hallmarks of National Islamic Front war-making strategy since the regime came to power by military coup in June 1989, deposing an elected government, and deliberately aborting Sudan’s most promising chance for a north/south peace agreement since independence in 1956.

Just as ominously, ICG notes that,

“The Janjaweed continue to play a lead role in the military strategy used against non-signatory rebel groups. The fact that the National Congress Party has put Nafie Ali Nafie in charge of the Darfur file, replacing Magzoub al-Khalifa, underlines that it views resolution of the conflict through a security, not a political, lens.” (page 7)

With this latter point about Nafie ICG is dead-on, and the evidence of such a view of the Janjaweed within the Khartoum junta is confirmed everywhere in Darfur. Nor is it difficult to understand why the regime brazenly persists in using this brutal militia force as its primary instrument of ethnically-targeted civilian destruction. It is almost three years since the UN Security Council “demanded” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and brings its leaders to justice (UN Security Council Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004). This “demand” has meant nothing, and Khartoum has responded only by recycling Janjaweed members into other paramilitary guises. Khartoum’s contemptuous defiance of recent International Criminal Court warrants---one for the arrest of a National Islamic Front official, the other for an especially brutal Janjaweed leader---tells us all we need to know about how the regime is responding to present international pressures.

SPOTLIGHT ON CHINA

Absent pressure from China, there is nothing to suggest that near-term pressures---economic or diplomatic---will change the survivalist calculations of Khartoum’s ruthless génocidaires. For just this reason, China has become the target of a rapidly growing international campaign to shame Beijing for hosting the “Genocide Olympics” in summer 2008. Yet so far the Chinese regime has merely gone through the motions of responding to the Darfur genocide. A plea from the Chinese foreign ministry that Khartoum show more “flexibility” with respect to deployment of UN forces has changed nothing in Khartoum’s outlook or behavior. And following this ostensible plea for “flexibility,” Beijing sent Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to Darfur to offer the following scripted account of realities in specifically prepared camps:

“My general impression is that the current situation in Darfur is basically stable, the local government runs normally, the refugee camps are well managed with sound health conditions and the basic living of refugees is guaranteed. [ ] According to the local people, the security situation in Darfur is generally improved, especially after the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement and crimes decreased considerably." (Transcript of Chinese Foreign Ministry, April 12, 2007)

This account of course comports with none of what is being reported by either the UN or nongovernmental organizations. China has simply airbrushed away Darfur’s genocidal realities, sending to Khartoum the signal that while international pressures may oblige some public posturing, there is no danger of Beijing’s acceding to any assessment of conditions in Darfur that would require truly urgent and robust action by the Security Council. This is all the encouragement that Khartoum requires from its largest supplier of weapons, its largest economic partner, and its source of unstinting diplomatic muscle at the UN.

Darfur falls further into overwhelming catastrophe, and there remains nothing to slow the descent.

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org



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