28 Nov 2007
The prospects for placing UN Peacekeeping forces in Sudan’s troubled Darfur district are becoming even dimmer as the deployment time approaches. An initial group of 135 Chinese military engineers arrived Sudan on behalf of the UN (to build bridges and water sources for peacekeepers) Saturday only to be greeted by a threatening message from one of the Darfur rebels that they should go home.
"We oppose them coming because China is not interested in human rights. It is just interested in Sudan's resources," Said Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) to Reuters. Adding;"We are calling on them to quit Sudan, especially the petroleum areas." Jem is one of the Sudanese rebel groups that is fighting the Arab dominated government in Khartoum and her allied Janjaweed Arab militia that has been accused of causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of black African Sudanese and displacing millions more. The African Union has unsuccessfully tried to enforce peace to the crisis that started in 2003 shortly after another two decades old conflict between the government and rebels in the South was settled. In the eyes of these Western Sudanese rebels, the Chinese have always been seen as being allied to Khartoum and less sympathetic to the plight of the suffering people of Darfur.
In the tortuous negotiations between the UN and the Sudanese government to upgrade the beleaguered 7000 African Union peacekeeping force to a 26000 strong AU/UN hybrid force, it appears the Sudanese government has been dragging her feet at each turn so as to thwart or delay the deployment of more troops. Initially Al Bashir’s government tried to portray the UN as an anti-Islamic and Western group, prompting Al Qaeda to call for a Jihad against the deployment of the Blue Helmets. Bashir has all along insisted that the peacekeeping force should be made up only of Africans. He only shifted his stance slightly to accept “a brigade of engineers” from China and Pakistan only. He is hostile even to such seemingly neutral countries like Sweden and Norway as can be seen in his November 11th statement to Al-Jazeera; “We refused to receive [engineers] from Norway and Sweden, and we will not accept this. We are convinced that the elements whom they insist to send to us from Sweden and Norway are intelligence elements; namely, MOSSAD [Israeli Intelligence] and CIA”. On Friday, Omar Al Bashir reiterated his rejection of the non- African peacekeepers and apparently went as far as opposing the fact that the peacekeepers should wear the UN blue helmets.
An apparently frustrated Jean-Marie Guehenno (UN Peacekeeping chief) told the UN Security Council on November 27th that Sudan continues to mount obstacles through delays, objections and the introduction of new conditions on the operations of the hybrid force. Apart from other administrative tactics like visa delays or outright refusals, the UN Peacekeepers are still waiting for clarification from the Sudanese government on such issues like, authorization for non-African troops, land for bases and authorization for night flights. Guehenno warned that such an attitude from the Sudanese government "would make it impossible for the mission to operate".
Al Bashir is not the only spoiler. The rebels have their own share of the blame. There are more than a dozen groups claiming to be fighting for the Darfuris but hardly speaking with one voice. Splinter groups keep on emerging and some are outright bandits or agents of the Sudanese government. Most of them have a penchant for obstructing or boycotting negotiations as was demonstrated in Abuja, Nigeria and recently in Sirte, Libya. Their disunity is contributing to render the work of the peacemakers very difficult and like the Janjaweed, some of their splinter groups do attack peacekeepers and aid workers. It is also contributing to increase suffering and making it easier for the war to expand. Sudan’s neighbors continue to suffer also. Chad has over 500,000 Darfur refugees, The Central African Republic also has some and the spill over of the fighting in Darfur has only come to exacerbate the instability in the north of C.A.R. Last week, it was reported that about 45000 C.A.R refugees crossed into Northern Cameroon to escape the fighting there. Insecurity is also increasing in that part of Cameroon. It is a conflict that is gradually sucking in neighboring countries and spreading violence and suffering. The title of a recent article in The Economist Magazine aptly describes the situation in Darfur; “Pity the people of Darfur, pity the peacemakers too”.
Njei Moses Timah