Friday, August 3, 2007

Darfur Peacekeepers: A Positive Sign for Sudan's Future

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Aug. 3, 2007 − The long and terribly complex road to genuine peace in Darfur took an optimistic turn this week when Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir agreed − after long negotiations and serious international pressure − to the deployment in Darfur of a joint African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force of some 27,000 troops. These soldiers, who will likely form a Pan-African protective contingent, will most likely come from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa, and they will mark the first ever peacekeeping collaboration between the UN and the African Union.

A substantial on-the-ground protective force in Darfur is necessary, of course, for the safekeeping of the victims of the internal war and violence, who now number perhaps 200,000 killed, and more than twice that number suffering from internal displacement. The current African Union force in Darfur, numbering about 7,000 beleaguered troops, is badly under-manned and under-equipped for the protection of human life in a land area the size of France. This larger contingent is scheduled for deployment at the earliest possible time.

Later this week, about a dozen Darfur rebel factions will meet at a conference in Arusha, Tanzania to attempt, once again, to hammer out a collective agreement for starting another round of peace negotiations with the government of Sudan. These negotiations, which have failed since the original round of talks began in Nigeria (2005), will take place without the approval of at least one major rebel faction.

But Sudan faces other challenges as well.

A recent report from the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, indicates that security forces within the country still have the power to arrest individuals without formal charges, and to hold them in detention for as long as six months. A number of such persons, including former military commanders, police officials, security agents, and the leaders of two major political opposition parties in northern Sudan, have recently been detained under this national security provision for alleged plots against the current national government.

There is also the ongoing question of whether Sudan will agree to the extradition of suspected war criminals to the International Criminal Court, which Khartoum has adamantly refused to do since earlier this year. And the equitable sharing of resources throughout the country, coupled with the internal displacement of some 4 million people in southern Sudan and the massive poverty of the region (where some 90 percent of southern Sudanese people subsist on less than $1 U.S. a day), present equally formidable problems for the leadership and the people of Sudan.

Sudan may well have accepted the peacekeeping troop deployment as the only way to avoid international sanctions, but this agreement is nonetheless a necessary one, not only for the sake of the people of Darfur but equally for the sake of the integrity of the nation-state as well. We applaud the government of Sudan for finally agreeing to the deployment of this force.

Finally, there is real hope that the end to the violence in Darfur is in sight. And when the killing is stopped, the possibility for national reconciliation, reconstruction, and the building of real democracy in Sudan can truly begin.

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