Global Policy Forum

Fresh Diplomatic Row as Darfur Crisis Escalates


By Ken Ramani

June 9, 2007

It is denials, half-truths and counter-accusations as the Darfur conflict once again dominates news from Africa. This follows last week's announcement of new sanctions on Sudan by President George Bush due to what he said was reluctance by Khartoum to solve the four-year-old conflict. According to Sudan's Foreign minister, Dr Lam Akol, the sanctions could only complicate a conflict whose roadmap was almost being agreed on. "Unless the US reviews its hostile stand on Sudan, the rebel groups would continue fighting because they are receiving negative signals. The Sudan government can only solve the conflict through dialogue and not through decrees as being pursued by the US," said Akol during an interview in Khartoum.

Russia, which is currently embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Washington, told Britain and US not to be ‘so emotional' about Darfur and to accept that they cannot force Sudan to find a peaceful solution to a conflict within its borders. Along with China, which has strong commercial and military links with the Sudanese regime, it has repeatedly argued in the UN Security Council that dialogue is the only way out.

US sanctions to benefit US

In the recent past, violence has reportedly escalated in southern Darfur and last week people fleeing the fighting spoke of fresh attacks by the Janjaweed militia that is allied to Khartoum. But according to Akol, the situation in Darfur has greatly improved, save for a few incidents by rebel elements that carjack humanitarian vehicles and loot them or use in the fighting. Egyptian Foreign minister Mr Ahmed Abul Gheit argued that sanctions had never been successful in solving problems and can't solve Sudan's Darfur issue. "Negotiations and building bridges were the best way to solve conflicts.

Bush announced last week the US Treasury would step up efforts to squeeze the Sudanese economy by targeting government-run ventures involved with its booming oil business, which does many of its transactions in US dollars. Akol downplayed the general impact of the sanctions on the economy of Sudan saying "Sudan deals very little with the US. Apart from exporting Gum Arabica to the US, most of our trade dealings are with African, European and Asian countries." Akol argued that the US sanctions were only meant to benefit US interests but not the people of Darfur and Sudan in general. "How come Bush did not include Gum Arabica in his package of sanctions?" posed Akol.

Sudan accounts for about 80 per cent of Gum Arabica, a natural gum taken from two sub-Saharan species of acacia tree. It is primarily used in the food industry as a stabiliser, which stops sugar from crystalising. Western Union, a US company, is a major money-transfer outfit that announced it would not terminate its operations in Sudan despite sanctions. The Sudanese in the diaspora who depend on Western Union, especially those from southern Sudan, could have been hardest hit had Western Union stopped its operations.

Little achievements

China urged the international community on Thursday to show patience with Sudan and argued that new sanctions would only complicate efforts to implement a UN peace plan for strife-torn Darfur. China, which has a veto power at the UN Security Council, is a major investor in Sudan's oil industry whose products (60 per cent) it imports, deals in arms with Khartoum and has invested heavily in its infrastructure especially roads and ports.

In what could further isolate Washington, the Arab League also rejected imposition of fresh sanctions against Sudan. The Secretary-General, Mr Amir Moussa, said it was not the right time for sanctions. He drew parallels between the Bush sanctions and the previous US sanctions against other Arab nations that never achieved anything.

Akol lamented that Khartoum had just received a 39-page report proposing the tripling of the number of peacekeepers in Darfur. He said that, in the new arrangement, a AU-UN "hybrid" force of at least 23,000 soldiers and police would be allowed to launch pre-emptive attacks to stop violence. "It was on May 26 that we received the report, only for Bush to surprise everyone with his unilateral sanctions. We feel the US has no interest in finding a lasting solution to the crisis," argues Akol.

Al-Bashir has already given green light to the first two phases but has refused to sign off on the hybrid UN-AU force, saying he would only allow a larger African force with technical and logistical support from the United Nations. The hybrid force proposed by the AU and UN envisions highly mobile troops "capable and ready to deter violence, including in a pre-emptive manner," robustly equipped, and backed by aerial surveillance and aircraft to move soldiers quickly to address threats to security. According to the report, the mobile infantry battalions would provide security at IDP camps, patrol roads and humanitarian supply routes, and around towns and villages.

French idea could create confusion

Further, military observers would track the activities of armed militias, monitor compliance with the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in Abuja in May 2006 by the government and one rebel group, and monitor the porous border between Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic where the conflict has spilled over.

The two bodies proposed two options for the military, one with 19,500 troops including 18 infantry battalions and the other with 17,605 troops including 15 infantry battalions. The larger force has "an optimal balance" of capabilities "and would credibly contribute to a secure environment," the report said. The smaller force would "critically depend" on rapid reaction forces and readily available aircraft and helicopters. The police component would include 3,772 officers and about 2,500 policemen whose prime responsibility would be to establish community police in the camps and work with the national police in Darfur to international standards.

The AU and UN called for urgent contribution of troops and police from UN member states, and urged Sudan to approve land use and water drilling for the force. The two organisations said every effort will be made to keep the hybrid force predominantly African, as al-Bashir demanded. AU Commission chairman, Mr Alpha Omar Konare, said any attempt to slap sanctions on Sudan was unjustifiable as time was "not appropriate for such talk".

The AU, UN and Sudanese government agreed last November on a three-phase support plan, also known as the Annan Plan, as suggested by then UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan. With the first phase of the plan, already underway, Sudan announced on April 16 that it approved the inauguration of the second phase. The second phase involves the deployment of 3,000 UN troops and six attack helicopters to Darfur to support the 7,800-strong African force, as well as preparation for the next phase, in which a much larger UN force would be sent to the region.

On another front, Chad, which has in recent years been at loggerheads with Sudan, rebuffed a proposal by France to set up a humanitarian corridor in its territory to channel aid to victims of violence in Sudan's Darfur, saying it did not see the need. French Foreign minister, Mr Bernard Kouchner, is said to be working on an initiative to create a secure aid corridor through eastern Chad where several UN agencies have large-scale relief operations. French and other non-government organisations criticised Kouchner's corridor idea on the grounds it could create confusion between military and humanitarian activities and put aid workers at risk.

On the proposed No Fly Zone to be created in Darfur, Akol says it can't work when 14 rebel groupings are still fighting. "The government has an obligation to protect its citizens. Unless and until the other party to the conflict ceases fire, the No Fly Zone cannot exist in its true sense and meaning." Akol disclosed that a tripartite meeting in Addis Ababa will on June 11 discuss the final proposals contained in the AU/UN report. "We expect the AU and UN to make a formal request to AU member states to contribute troops." The minister also said the Addis meeting would discuss the finer details of the funding aspect of what is billed to be the most massive operation by AU. He said the countries interested in suing for peace in Darfur should back the efforts of the AU and UN.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Sudan
More Information on UN Sanctions


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