One of the keys for resolution of the conflict in Darfur is control of the militias and other armed gangs who now roam the region with impunity. Some observers have doubts whether the Khartoum government retains control over the monster it has created, but others consider this monster a foreseeable and designed result of Khartoums policy.
Regardless, to date the Sudanese government has given no signs whatsoever of its intention to pursue accountability. As long as the government continues to recruit members for its janjaweed and paramilitary units, it sends a clear signal that it will continue with its campaign of terror despite peace talks in Chad at the end of March, 2004.
The conflict in Darfur poses serious challenges for the Chadian president, trapped as he is between his Khartoum mentors and the different groups within the Chadian Zaghawa constituency. Débys position is further complicated by fractures within the Zaghawa community96 and by pressure from the Chadian Arab population, far larger than the Zaghawa, with whom he is unpopular. This population, following the precedent set by several previous Chadian regimes, could try to use Darfur as a staging base for an armed insurgency against the Chadian government. Déby is also under pressure from the large influx of Sudanese refugees in the east, which threatens to bring the ethnic tensions of Darfur over to Chadbecause the janjaweed and sometimes Sudanese government forces have raided the Sudanese refugees and their Chadian neighbors. Local versus refugee tensions, so far dormant because of ethnic similarities, may be exacerbated by the continuing drain on resources and the minimal international interest in assisting the Sudanese refugees in Chad.
Well aware of the risks inherent in any course of action, the Chadian government is engaged in a delicate balancing act as it tries to maintain control of the domestic situation as well as resolve the Darfur conflict. So far it has provided the only international forum for negotiations acceptable to the government of Sudan and the rebel groups. The September 2003 ceasefire was brokered by the Chadian government and despite reluctance on the part of the rebel groups to continue with Chad as the mediator since they view Chad as not neutral, a new round of negotiations began there on March 31, 2004.
In 1990, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled The Forgotten War in Darfur Flares Again, that described quite similar patterns of conflict, Sudanese government strategies inflaming the crisis, and total international ignorance and indifferencealthough that 1990 crisis was much smaller in scale. Sadly, throughout 2003, the Sudanese government, under the same president now as in 1990, reverted to much the same destructive strategies, though with some key differences.
International attention to Darfur has been slow to mobilize, partly due to several factors: the remoteness of the region, the lack of access by international humanitarian agencies, journalists, and other observers,97 and the news blackout imposed by Khartoum. Perhaps most critically for many governments, Darfur is considered an unhelpful distraction from the ongoing peace negotiations to settle the twenty-year conflict in southern Sudan. Darfur is viewed as a potential threat to the success of those peace talks as the demands of the Darfur rebellion underlined what critics of the talks have said; that the IGAD negotiations could not lead to real peace because they involved only the government and the southern-based SPLA rebels. Implied also was the threat of the Sudanese government to abandon peace with the south if it would not be allowed to pursue the war in Darfur.
It was only in January 2004 that growing international media attention and increasing criticism by U.N. agencies began to mobilize Western governments and organizations to become more concerned about the sharp humanitarian deterioration and intensified war in Darfur.
The European Union (E.U.), the United States, and others, including many U.N. agencies lead by calls from the U.N. resident representative in Khartoum, Mukesh Kapila, have gradually voiced concern.98 While many in the diplomatic community including in Khartoum seem to be apprised of some of the facts in Darfur, in part thanks to active Darfur representatives in the National Assembly and others in Khartoum, the diplomatic community is not united on a response.
As a result the Sudanese government has been able to escape serious international pressure, while speeding up the war in the expectation of achieving a military victory and presenting the international community with a fait accompli. At the end of the January 2004 military campaign, President El Bashir prematurely announced victory and declared the war at an end on February 9, 2004, stating that the armed forces had restored law and order and that arrangements for the return of refugees from Chad could now commence, among other points.99 The rebels, it appeared, merely reverted to guerrilla tactics and faded into the countryside, avoiding capture and destruction. They soon resumed ambushes and attacks on military posts. The government, however, managed to recapture many of the border areas.
President El Bashir also pledged full humanitarian access to Darfur, responding minimally to international pressure from the donors. This statement was quickly reversed in practice, however, as is common with such government promises. International relief workers were still waiting six weeks before being granted visas to enter Sudan in March 2004with more protracted negotiations awaiting each individuals permission to travel to limited areas for limited time periods, among many other impediments.
The U.S. appears to take a more vigorous position than its allies, emphasizing that its six sets of economic sanctions now in place on Sudanranging from concerns with human rights to terrorismcannot be totally lifted if abuses continue as they are in Darfur.100 Several groups of high-ranking State Department and USAID officials have made their way to Khartoum in February 2004, and reportedly pressured the Sudanese government not only to conclude the peace talks with the south and to conclude a ceasefire and enter into negotiations with the Darfur rebels.
The U.S. and the U.K. insist that the U.S.-created and sponsored Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) be deployed to monitor attacks on civilians and their infrastructure in Darfur. The CPMT was put in place in 2002 in Khartoum and Rumbek, southern Sudan, pursuant to an agreement between the SPLA and the government of Sudan to refrain from targeting civilians and civilian objects followed up by the Verification Monitoring Team (VMT), reporting to IGAD. So far Khartoum has adamantly refused all CPMT or VTM deployment to Darfur.
The U.K. and other European powers interested in Sudan, however, such as Germany and the Netherlands, seem to be less interested in pushing for an early solution to the Darfur crisis, despite intense lobbying by nongovernmental humanitarian agencies and others. They view the success of the peace talks between the Sudanese government and the southern rebels as the highest priority, and those talks, in progress with forceful mediation by the Troika of the U.S., U.K., and Norway, appear to be foundering as various deadlines come and go. Tension continues to build as the parties negotiate, finalizing power sharing, security, and implementation/enforcement provisions, that should extend the negotiations into mid-2004 at leastor longer, if Khartoum senses that it can escape pressure on Darfur by drawing out the southern peace talks.
The power sharing arrangements initialed by the parties so far include the SPLA as a partner in government, with decision-making power at the highest levels. The Europeans and others consider or hope that the SPLA, once it is part of the government, will prevail on the NIF/National Congress to abandon the war in Darfur. This strategy is unlikely to prove successful in the short-term, however, if at all.
As of the writing of this report, the situation remains in flux with the international community being called on to take action by Kapila and a growing number of voices in the international media. Whether the international community will meet the challenge remains unclear. What is clear is that a more united diplomatic front and greater international muscle is essential to bring the suffering of the enormous numbers of affected civilians to an end, and to prevent further atrocities.
95 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, March 10, 2004.
96 The Zaghawa tribe consists of several sub-clans: the Wagi, Kobe, and the Bideyat. The Wagi are only found in Sudan while the other two sub-clans, the Kobe and the Bideyat, straddle the border. It is reported that the Zaghawa in the JEM rebel group are predominantly both Sudanese and Chadian Kobe and Bideyat, while the Wagi are mainly in the SLA faction. Human Rights Watch interview, Netherlands, February 6, 2004.
97 Amnesty International has been one of the lone voices consistently sounding the alarm on abuses in Darfur since the beginning of 2003.
98 Situation in Darfur, US department of State, Washington DC, March 2, 2004.
99 Statement by President El Bashir, February 9, 2004.
100 Human Rights Watch interview, State department official, February 2004.