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Is Khartoum Interested in Darfur Peace Talks?

ICC NOTE: Between relentless attacks on civilians to rape and murder of aid workers the Khartoum government is doing its best to keep rebel groups divided and workers from helping the suffering. Although the people in Darfur are not Christian, their situation is very similar to that of the Chrisitan South only a few years ago. Please pray that UN forces can finally intervene in Darfur.

by Eric Reeves

2-15-2007 Eric Reeves.org Khartoum is well aware that its grim genocide by attrition continues remorselessly. The denial of unfettered humanitarian access; the previous systematic and comprehensive destruction of the livelihoods of African tribal populations; and the continuing decline in security for humanitarian operations in Darfur—all ensure that the non-Arab civilian populations targeted because of their ethnicity remain the acutely vulnerable victims of the past four years of obscene violence. Natsios’s expedient refusal to accept these indisputable “facts” on the ground continues the process by which the Bush administration has slowly attempted to back away from the unambiguous genocide determination rendered by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in September 2004: “genocide has been committed in Darfur, and the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility” (testimony on Darfur before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, September 9, 2004).

But however inconvenient Darfur ’s continuing realities of genocidal destruction may be for Natsios, they cannot be ignored. Indeed, as Natsios himself is obliged to declare—bizarrely, given his recent disclaimer—“he fear[s] aid groups could be forced out of Darfur and pro-government Janjaweed militia would try to close camps sheltering millions, resulting in a ‘blood bath’”:

“‘The risk is that if the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) leave, the UN humanitarian agencies leave … there will be no one to care for these people in the camps who can be trusted,’ [Natsios] told Reuters in an interview. ‘There is a potential for an explosion if the agencies leave that would match the risk to people of the 2003 and 2004 time period,’ he said.” (Reuters [dateline: Washington , DC ], February 14, 2007).

Given the overwhelming African ethnic character of the camps, it is unclear why Natsios is not in fact predicting resumption of full-scale genocidal violence.

But leaving aside the Bush administration’s semantic trimming of the issue, it is clear that security on the ground is simply essential if humanitarian organizations are not to suffer ongoing contraction of their operations—or indeed confront the increasingly likely prospect of full-scale withdrawal from Darfur . Certainly we know that if these organizations do withdraw (see below), human mortality will be catastrophic and could easily exceed 100,000 per month, as former UN aid chief Jan Egeland warned over two years ago. Khartoum is well aware that Suleiman Jamous could do much to improve security for humanitarians; but because the ambition of the regime is clearly to attenuate, even collapse humanitarian presence, his release is being denied.

As all recognize, long-term peace and security in Darfur can come only with meaningful peace negotiations. The lack of a coherent rebel negotiating position during the various rounds of the Abuja talks is now well understood by most commanders as the major cause of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement, and there is a clear determination to avoid past mistakes. Jamous would be the indispensable presence during these difficult internal deliberations. And for precisely this reason, precisely because Khartoum wishes to cleave insistently to the Darfur Peace Agreement as the only “peace agreement,” it has no interest in facilitating rebel cohesion—and thus remains committed to imprisoning Jamous, by means of the UN, in Kadugli.

KHARTOUM AND THE “ DARFUR PEACE PROCESS”

The vast majority of Darfuris have rejected the Darfur Peace Agreement, primarily because it lacks both security guarantees and guarantors. And Khartoum ’s blatant contempt for the terms of the DPA, as well as for previously signed commitments, is everywhere in evidence. The Janjaweed have not been disarmed, as Khartoum has on six occasions committed to doing, and as UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (July 2004) “demanded.” Aerial bombardment of civilian targets continues to this day. And prisoners of war, such as Suleiman Jamous, were all to have been released. Jamous’s continued imprisonment is only the most flagrant and consequential violation of this particular commitment.

Indeed, nothing of significance has been achieved on the basis of the DPA. Humanitarian conditions have badly deteriorated since its signing; there were thirteen killings of humanitarian workers in Darfur in 2006, nearly all occurring after the signing of the DPA. Civilian and humanitarian security was also dramatically compromised when Khartoum launched a major military offensive in late August 2006, at the very moment the UN Panel of experts was reporting:

“The [UN] Panel [of Experts] has credible information that the Government of the Sudan continues to support the Janjaweed through the provision of weapons and vehicles. The Janjaweed/armed militias appear to have upgraded their modus operandi from horses, camels and AK-47s to land cruisers, pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenades. Reliable sources indicate that the Janjaweed continue to be subsumed into the Popular Defence Force in greater numbers than those indicated in the previous reports of the Panel. Their continued access to ammunition and weapons is evident in their ability to coordinate with the Sudanese armed forces in perpetrating attacks on villages and to engage in armed conflict with rebel groups.” (Report of the UN Panel of Experts, August 31, 2006, paragraph 76)

Khartoum ’s contempt for various obligations and commitments to the DPA and to the international community, including to the UN, was further highlighted in this report by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur :

“In spite of the clear understanding of its obligations under Security Council resolution 1591 (2005), at the time of writing this report [August 31, 2006], the Government of the Sudan still had not requested approval from the Committee to move weapons, ammunition or other military equipment into Darfur, thereby knowingly violating the provisions of the resolution [1591].” (Introductory Summary)

Much of Khartoum ’s military activity is, in fact, a direct assault on the peace process—an attempt to bomb and kill the rebel commanders who are seeking, amidst inordinate political and logistical difficulties, to unify. Reuters recently reported (February 13, 2007):

“Government forces have attacked Darfur rebel positions ahead of a critical meeting between rebel leaders and African Union and UN envoys trying to revive a stalled peace process, rebels said on Tuesday [February 13, 2007]. ‘There was an attack from the Janjaweed and government of Sudan early in the morning on the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and on civilians,’ said Osman al-Bushra, a rebel commander in Darfur . ‘They took livestock and killed civilians,’ he added.” [ ]

“The rebel conference has been delayed many times, twice because of government bombardment, but Darfur rebel commander Jar el-Neby said commanders had begun to arrive from all over Darfur and the meeting should begin on February 19, [2007].” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum ], February 13, 2007)

The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports (February 12, 2007) on the meaningless response of the UN Security Council to these calculated bombing attacks:

“‘[The Security Council] denounces in particular the bombing of areas in Northern Darfur by the Sudanese Air Force, which disrupted the preparations for a meeting of Sudan Liberation Movement commanders despite the fact that the Sudanese government had earlier declared its consent to the meeting.’”

Such vacuously reiterated “denunciations” of course mean nothing to Khartoum . Indeed, they work to convince the regime that the UN has no intention of acting rather than posturing.

A dispatch from The Sudan Tribune (dateline: el-Fasher) reports in detail on recent findings by the African Union Ceasefire Commission:

“The African Union denounced air bombardment by government warplane of two localities in North Darfur near the Chadian border, saying Sudan ceasefire violations will hinder its effort for durable ceasefire. ‘The [African Union] Ceasefire Commission (CFC) notes with concern the bombardment by Government of Sudan forces of Kariari and Bahai, 2 villages in North Darfur close to [the] Chad-Sudan border on 11 February 2007, at about 1200hours,” [the AU] said a statement issued [ ] on Sunday 11 February [2007].”

The AU Ceasefire Commission statement continued,

“‘The AU CFC considers these acts unwarranted especially as efforts are on to ensure that the ceasefire to which all Parties expressed commitment holds in order to seek an enduring political solution to the crisis.’ The Sudanese government routinely bombs, the African Union and the United Nations have regularly condemned Khartoum for these flagrant violations of ceasefire agreement.” (Sudan Tribune [dateline: el-Fasher], February 12, 2007)

Certainly Khartoum ’s bombings have been “regular,” and their intent has been conspicuous for many weeks, indeed months. As Reuters reported last month:

“The African Union has confirmed Sudan ‘s army bombed two villages in North Darfur , violating ceasefire agreements and jeopardising efforts to revive a stalled peace process. [ ] In the first independent confirmation of rebel reports that the government bombarded their positions in Anka and Korma on January 16 and 19, [2007] the AU condemned the attacks. ‘The (AU) ceasefire commission is once again calling on all parties to refrain from any activities that will jeopardize the peace process,’ the statement sent late on Monday [January 22, 2007] said.”

“Rebels are trying to hold a conference in Darfur to unify their position ahead of a renewed push for peace talks. They want government guarantees that the conference will not be attacked, but the army has three times bombed rebel positions in the past two months, the AU says.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum ], January 23, 2007)

Earlier (January 21, 2007) Reuters had reported the comments of rebel commander Jar el-Naby, perhaps the most principled of those fighting in the “Group of 19” (G-19) faction of what was formerly the SLA :

“Rebel commander Jar el-Neby also accused the government of bombing. ‘They bombed for about five hours (on Saturday [January 20, 2007]),’ he said. ‘I think they are trying to stop our commanders’ conference.’ Rebel commanders want to hold a conference in Darfur to unite their positions ahead of peace talks. There are more than a dozen rebel factions. Rebels say they want guarantees the army will not attack or bomb their meeting.”

But there will be no such guarantees: Khartoum ’s continuous campaign of aerial bombardment makes clear the regime will do all it can to prevent the rebels from creating a cohesive negotiating front. A statement last month from the African Union speaks volumes about Khartoum ’s intentions in Darfur (here by way of an Associated Press dispatch [dateline: Khartoum ], December 31, 2006):

“Sudanese forces bombed two rebel locations in Darfur just days after the head of the African Union’s peacekeeping force visited the area to urge the rebels to join a cease-fire agreement, the AU said yesterday [December 30, 2006]. A Sudanese government aircraft on Friday [December 29, 2006] bombed Anka and Um Rai in North Darfur province where Gen. Luke Aprezi had met on Wednesday [December 27, 2006] with rebels, an AU statement said. ‘When a bombing is made after I have visited an area, my credibility is involved,’ Aprezi told The Associated Press by telephone from Khartoum , Sudan ‘s capital. ‘To that group, I don’t have any credibility anymore.’”

“The incident jeopardizes efforts to bring additional groups into the cease-fire that a single rebel faction and the government signed in May 2006, the AU said. [ ] The AU obtained consent from Sudanese officials in Darfur and the capital ahead of meeting the rebels, it said in the statement. It called Friday’s [December 29, 2006] attack ‘a seriously disturbing development.’”

These are conspicuously not the actions of a regime that has any intention of engaging in good faith negotiations with rebel groups that are non-signatories to the deeply flawed and hastily consummated Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). Moreover, Khartoum has given every indication that it will insist that the DPA serve as the only basis for peace talks, even on crucial issues of security. In the nine months since the signing of the DPA, nothing could be clearer than that without robust international guarantors, the security provisions of the DPA are utterly worthless. These provisions have in no way constrained the violence of any of the parties to the conflict.

And while military defeats continue to be inflicted on Khartoum ’s regular forces, especially in North Darfur , the regime’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction has already been deployed and only gathers potency. The same regime that today effectively barred from Darfur a distinguished UN human rights investigative team (“UN rights team cancels Darfur visit over visa row,” Reuters [dateline: Geneva], February 14, 2007 at www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL1448353920070214) has taken dead-aim at humanitarian efforts, knowing how terribly close to complete withdrawal aid organizations are. There is a ghastly familiarity to the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks report of February 12, 2007:

“Attacks against international non-governmental organisations and humanitarian workers in the Sudanese region of North Darfur have created ‘an unsustainable level of insecurity’ for operations, relief workers said on Monday [February 12, 2007].”

How much clearer a signal must the world community have before it recognizes that this “unsustainable level of insecurity” will undoubtedly result in large-scale humanitarian evacuations and withdrawals? Could the consequences of these evacuations and withdrawal be any clearer? Can we have any doubt that the current course of events will result in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths?