UN in Darfur

INDICATIONS are that the ice is broken, finally, over the issue of deployment of UN peacekeeping force in Darfur — the scene of massive violence, rapes, and displacements over the past four years. Reports to this effect, as yet unconfirmed from UN, though, have it that this is thanks to the mediation at the Arab Summit in Riyadh two weeks ago.

That the African Union peacekeeping force currently struggling to maintain law and order in Sudan’s troubled West is cutting a sorry figure is without doubt. What else to expect from a force of barely 7000, that has to deal with problems of epic magnitude — involving the plight of some 2.5 million people displaced by the conflict? Sudan’s hesitation in accepting force deployment from outside of the continent is understandable, especially in the context of its misgivings about the West “trying to fish in troubled waters”. But, how long can the violence and other troubles go on without an end? That the Bashir dispensation has finally agreed for UN involvement in peacekeeping shows, if anything, that it is serious about an early end to the crisis in Darfur. The visit by top US diplomat John Negroponte to Khartoum this week is sure to have added to the prodding that Bashir got from the Riyadh summit for positive action.

However, deployment of a hybrid peacekeeping force, involving the UN and the AU, is only the first step towards a final settlement of the issues in Darfur. The problems in the west sprang up in the context of feelings that the federal administration was neglecting the region and its people, leading to the eruption of protest movements, and retaliatory strikes by the pro-government Janjaweed militia. Admittedly, no government can allow demands for secession or internal revolts, as has been the case with Darfur.

The way to counter such situations is to address the root causes of public discontentment. The Abuja accord signed in May last, involving also major segments of the militants, has directly addressed some of these major issues. Khartoum must continue working in those directions, so that integration of the masses with the national mainstream, which should be the ultimate goal, will be swift.

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