Global Policy Forum

Peacekeepers Alone Can't Help Darfur - UNHCR Chief


By Alaa Shahine

April 24, 2007

Even a force of 100,000 peacekeepers could not secure peace in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the head of the U.N refugee agency said on Tuesday. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said only a comprehensive political solution to the crisis would end the four-year-old conflict in Darfur, in which the United Nations say around 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million people displaced. "Without peace, there is no miracle. No security force will be able to guarantee security in the whole of Darfur. Darfur is very big," he said during a meeting with the so-called sheikhs of the displaced people at the Krinding Camp in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state. "Even if you have 100,000 policemen in Darfur, they will not be able to cover the whole territory," he told the men, who gathered inside a small hut. The Krinding camp is home to more than 30,000 people who live in small huts and complain about deteriorating security, abject poverty and the lack of educational services.

Sudan recently agreed to a "heavy support package" for the African Union peacekeeping troops in Darfur, to include some 3,500 military and police personnel. Khartoum, however, has rejected a U.N. demand to let in around 20,000 peacekeepers. U.S. President George W. Bush warned Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last week he had one last chance to stop violence in Darfur or the United States would impose sanctions and consider other punitive options. Sudan said it would not respond to "Western blackmail".

Guterres, speaking later in an interview with Reuters, said: "There needs to be a political solution first. Of course we need peacekeepers, but peacekeepers can do only so much if there is no peace. In any humanitarian crisis, there is always behind it a political problem. If you don't solve the political problem, you will never solve the crisis."

A 2006 peace agreement between the government and one rebel group has failed to stop the violence in Darfur. Eritrea, the Red Sea state that has friendly relations with Sudan, has said it is trying to bring other rebel groups to the negotiating table with the government. These efforts, however, have made little progress. Rebel groups want to renegotiate the 2006 peace deal, a demand that Khartoum rejects. Guterres arrived in Darfur one day after several international aid agencies said they were temporarily halting their work in the town of Um Dukhun because of worsening security in the area, which lies in West Darfur state near the border with Chad.

The agencies, which include Britain's Oxfam, Save the Children Spain and U.S.-based Mercy Corps, said their decision would disrupt the services to around 100,000 people in the town and surrounding rural areas. Gutteres said UNHCR was planning to increase its presence in West Darfur despite the security risk. Asked about the decision of the humanitarian agencies, he said: "There are regions in Darfur in which access is relatively easy, regions in which access is limited and difficult and regions where there is no access at all."

Sudanese Presidential Adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa said on Monday that security in Darfur was improving. The acting governor of West Darfur, Abdallah Khamis, said on Tuesday 80 percent of the state was stable. "We hope that this land becomes one of the paradises in which people will live until Judgment Day," he told Guterres and the visiting U.N. delegation."

Sudan says only 9,000 people have perished since the conflict flared in 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government, charging it with neglect.

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