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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Horn of Africa > Sudan > International Intervention in Darfur

International Intervention in Darfur

David Mozeresky, The International Development Magazine  |   1 Nov 2004

More than a year and a half has passed since two new movements began a rebellion against the government of Sudan in the western region of Darfur. The Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) took up arms to combat what they perceived as the chronic economic, social and political marginalisation of the Darfur region by the central government in Khartoum.

The situation today in Darfur is well known: 50,000 deaths, more than 1.5 million civilians displaced, and more than 2.2 million affected by the conflict. This massive death and displacement has been the direct result of the government's counter-insurgency campaign against the rebels, who are predominantly from the larger African tribes in Darfur. Following a string of military victories by the rebels against government military targets, the government armed and unleashed tribal Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed and recruited from the region and neighbouring countries, to attack the civilian population of the tribes suspected of supporting the rebellion. By the time the international community began to pay serious attention to Darfur in March 2004, the bulk of African villages were burned, and the government's ethnic cleansing campaign had largely been completed.

International concern succeeded in bringing the parties to the negotiating table in late March, and in early April, they signed a ceasefire agreement in N'djamena, Chad, under the auspices of the African Union (AU). One of the primary components of the agreement was the government's commitment to "neutralize" the Janjaweed militia under its control. However, the N'djamena ceasefire agreement has been shaky at best, with violations by all sides. Khartoum reconfirmed its commitment to reign in the Janjaweed militias in three subsequent agreements (with the rebel movements in late April, and two with the UN in early July and early August), but the Janjaweed continue to roam free in Darfur, attacking displaced civilians, looting and raping.

Despite widespread insecurity in the region, however, the humanitarian situation has gradually improved in Darfur over the past six months. Under international pressure, the government has eased restrictions on humanitarian access and the delivery of humanitarian relief to Darfur, although bureaucratic obstacles still exist. The majority of displaced civilians are now either in sprawling, makeshift camps in government areas inside Darfur, or in UN-administered refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. The UN and humanitarian agencies are also finally beginning to access civilian populations in rebel-held areas.

Yet until the security situation improves enough for the displaced to voluntarily return to their home areas, the region will remain a disaster zone entirely dependent on external support, with the civilian population bearing the brunt of the impact. The government's idea for restoring security is to send thousands more police and soldiers to the region -- including recycled Janjaweed -- but the displaced populations do not trust the state security forces to protect them.

A small AU force has been deployed as part of the ceasefire monitoring mechanism. It consists of roughly 130 observers, mostly from the AU with a contingent from the EU and the US, accompanied by an armed protection force of 308 soldiers from Rwanda and Nigeria. Although the force is far too small to patrol all of Darfur, an roughly area the size of France, and continues to lack sufficient logistical support to freely carry out its mission, its presence has had a positive impact in the areas where it is able to patrol.

A much larger international force in Darfur is the best way to improve the security of the displaced populations and enforce the ceasefire agreement. Stabilizing the security situation will lead to an improved humanitarian situation and the voluntary return of the displaced to their home areas. It will also help facilitate a politically negotiated solution between the government and the rebels.

With the recent backing of the UN Security Council, plans for dramatically increasing the size, capacity and mandate of the AU force in Darfur offer the best mechanism to substantially improve the situation on the ground in the shortest possible time. But for this expanded mission to succeed, donor countries must come forward quickly with the necessary support, both financial and logistical, to enable the expanded force to be deployed and effective as soon as possible.

David Mozersky is a Sudan analyst with the International Crisis Group

 
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