New U.S. Envoy on Ending Sudan’s War
New U.S. Envoy on Ending Sudan’s War
Op-Ed / Africa 4 minutes

Real Peace in Sudan

Last month, four days after the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed, the desperate and angry residents of Kalma camp in South Darfur lashed out against the African Union (AU), the regional body charged with observing a failed 2004 ceasefire and brokering the latest deal. Demonstrators looted an AU police post and brutally killed an unarmed Sudanese translator. Anger at the peace deal and the forces behind it is not limited to Kalma. Similar post-agreement violence has erupted in numerous other squalid displacement camps across Darfur.

Why are they angry? More than one month after the signing ceremony, the janjaweed militias—armed, trained and paid by Khartoum—continue to rape, kill and loot with impunity. Escalating violence between Darfur’s rebels fuels the fire; only one of the three principal rebel leaders signed the accord, and new rebel splinter groups appear almost daily. Increasingly divided along ethnic lines, the rebels have fought ferocious battles in recent months and committed atrocities against civilians.

The bottom line is that Khartoum has consistently failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect its own citizens in Darfur, the international community is also failing in its response and the new peace accord by itself will not protect them either. An aid worker in Darfur recently wrote to me: “The ‘peace’ agreement has no legitimacy or support here. It has actually caused more problems. The AU has lost all capacity to deal with the [security] situation, and the only way forward seems to be the U.N., and quick.”

This deal is in danger of swift collapse unless the U.S. demonstrates leadership in the U.N. Security Council so that the U.N. deploys a multinational force with a strong mandate and robust operational capacity to protect civilians from the predations of the janjaweed and other armed groups.

Khartoum has shirked five prior commitments to neutralize their proxy militia, yet the agreement allows the government to devise and implement its own disarmament plan by October of this year. Further, it stipulates that the already overwhelmed 7,000-strong AU force is responsible for monitoring and verifying this process. An AU general in Darfur told me recently that even if the ceasefire holds (and it isn’t holding), he would need eight additional battalions (approximately 6,400 troops) to properly implement the agreement’s security provisions. A recent push by the AU for 3,000 additional troops, assuming they could be found, would leave the mission well short of meeting the pressing need on the ground.

Rather than neutralizing the janjaweed, the government is hiding them in its formal security forces, where Khartoum can continue to channel support and then unleash them as spoilers if the need arises.

While the international community should make every effort to increase the AU’s capacity in the near term, the AU mission must be transitioned into a 20,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. A Chapter VII mandate empowers U.N. forces to conduct operations against groups that attack civilians, as U.N. peacekeepers do in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Such groups in Darfur include the janjaweed, rebel holdouts and armed groups from neighbouring Chad.

Despite Khartoum’s assurances that a peace agreement would pave the way for a U.N. transition, government stonewalling continues. Most recently, the U.N. Secretary General sent a high-powered representative just to convince Sudanese officials to allow a joint U.N.-AU assessment team to visit Darfur. Khartoum is clearly planning bureaucratic road blocks to impede deployment of actual U.N. troops.

Any peacekeeping operation in this type of “semi-permissive” environment will fail, but the Security Council has not applied genuine pressure on Khartoum to permit the deployment of a Chapter VII force. The U.S. must cooperate with our allies to coordinate a stronger diplomatic push. As a first step, U.S. diplomats should work within the Security Council to enact targeted sanctions against Sudanese officials and others who obstruct the U.N. transition.

In addition to a strong mandate and sufficient numbers, the force must have appropriate logistical and intelligence gathering capacity. This includes attack helicopters to provide close air support; adequate tactical, medium and strategic lift to deploy forces quickly to trouble spots; ground-based radar to verify position of forces; and a mechanism to enforce a no-fly zone. To reach this operating capacity, NATO should work directly with U.N. military planners and provide additional NATO assets and personnel—especially at headquarters level—to the mission. President George W. Bush has spoken of NATO “stewardship” and “overlay,” and he should direct the Pentagon to help translate vague rhetoric into concrete action.

The peace deal is unlikely to hold unless it is accepted more broadly by major stakeholders in Darfur. Increased security provided by a strong U.N. mission is a good start, but more needs to be done. The gold standard of any peace agreement for Darfur should be the reversal of ethnic cleansing—the safe and voluntary return of some 2.2 million refugees and displaced people to their villages. However, the agreement lacks specific security guarantees for displaced families during this process. The U.S., AU, U.N., and others should work with the government and rebel groups to agree on measures to protect civilians during return. Insufficient government compensation for the conflict’s victims is another weakness in the agreement that must be quickly addressed to increase buy in.

Securing a Chapter VII force for Darfur and creating conditions for return requires a lot of diplomatic heavy lifting and cooperation between various U.S. government agencies. However, competing interests at the State Department, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community have hamstrung the Bush administration’s ability to apply genuine pressure on Khartoum. The president should appoint a special envoy to Sudan who will harmonize U.S. policy and help coordinate international pressure. The president’s previous special envoy to Sudan, former Missouri Senator Jack Danforth, was instrumental in ending the civil war between the Khartoum government and rebels based in the South. U.S. engagement at a similar level is needed to prevent that agreement and the Darfur deal from unravelling.

Ask the residents of Kalma camp what they need most and the most common answer is “protection.” The Darfur Peace Agreement is just a piece of paper until an adequately robust U.N. force deploys and starts protecting civilians. The U.S. should lead the way.

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