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ICC NOTE: The root of many of Sudan’s problems lies with the NIF who have brought desolation to the Christian South, and now genocide to the far west reaches of the country. If the international community really wants to bring real sustaining impact they have to address this group that is destroying the country and its future.

FALSE HOPE: Sudan ‘s setback won’t help Darfur ”

January 25, 2006

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by Eric Reeves

The African Union made a noteworthy decision yesterday: For the first time in its brief history, the organization denied the AU chairmanship to the government hosting its annual summit–in this case, the genocidal Sudanese regime. The National Islamic Front, which dominates Sudan ‘s nominal “government of national unity,” was initially the only announced candidate for the position; but in the end Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguessou received the nod.

The United States and Nguessou both praised this development effusively. “I think it is really great because it affirms that the AU has standards and principles,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer. For his part, Nguessou immodestly declared that his selection represented an “important and relevant decision, and our proceedings bear witness to this. Our summit has been a tremendous success.” But such unstinting praise was hard to find elsewhere, and for good reason.

Moreover, the news from the AU summit could prove ominous for the long-suffering people of Darfur . There may now be a temptation towards complacency on the part of the African Union and the West: Having momentarily highlighted Khartoum ‘s destructive conduct in Darfur , African leaders may conclude that a chastened National Islamic Front will settle down and stop the genocide. This interpretation will be convenient for European and American politicians, who desperately want to believe the Darfur crisis can be solved without the involvement of Western troops.

Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than modest diplomatic reprimands to stop the NIF–and this would be a dangerous time to conclude otherwise, as the regime appears increasingly determined to flex its muscle throughout the country. The United Nations has just reported that Khartoum ‘s recent military offensive in the Hamesh Koreb area in eastern Sudan constitutes the first major violation of the ceasefire that came into force as part of last year’s peace agreement with southern rebels. Meanwhile, Khartoum has been militarily active in West Darfur and may be on the verge of a war with neighboring Chad . The potential for such a conflict has gone largely unnoticed by the international community, but its implications would be serious. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, on both sides of the border, are acutely vulnerable; these civilians would almost certainly lose access to humanitarian assistance in the event of open hostilities. None of these on-the-ground developments are likely to be ameliorated by the AU’s symbolic decision. If the AU and the West conclude otherwise, they will have done Darfur a disservice.

Worst of all, the deal that gave Nguessou the AU chairmanship also promised the position to Khartoum in 2007; and this promise could have disastrous consequences. Perversely, the NIF may view the gap year before its coming chairmanship as an opportunity to finish the active phase of its destruction in Darfur . After all, if the genocide is complete by late 2006, the NIF will be able to wipe its hands clean by the start of the next AU summit and say–in some sense truthfully–that the “war” in Darfur is over. If the NIF does opt for this strategy, then it will probably try to stall negotiations currently taking place in Nigeria aimed at ending the crisis. This shouldn’t be too hard to pull off: The rebel leadership that is negotiating with the NIF is both weak and lacking in diplomatic skill; and the talks have produced only scant progress so far. If the NIF can obstruct progress at those talks, while accelerating its nasty work in Darfur , it could be well positioned to assume the AU chairmanship next January. Yesterday’s compromise offers Khartoum a disturbing incentive to proceed along this track.

Of course, this analysis involves guesswork about how the NIF will interpret the result of the AU summit. But the regime is vicious in its practice of realpolitik, and its leaders have shown a penchant for similarly shrewd strategies in the past. If Khartoum ‘s genocidaires are thinking along these lines, then yesterday’s AU achievement will prove a very modest one indeed. But even if they are not, the AU compromise can hardly be described as an “outstanding outcome,” as America ‘s assistant secretary of state has called it. After all, the only “outstanding outcome” for the people of Darfur would be an end to genocide. And yesterday’s deal isn’t going to make that happen.