Can the UN fix Darfur without fixing Chad?
United Nations diplomats trying to solve the conflict in Darfur must better cooperate with international peacekeeping efforts in the region and better address the proxy war between Chad and Sudan, analysts say.
“They are so interrelated,” says General Balla Keita of the UN-led peacekeeping forces in West Darfur, which shares a long, porous border with Chad.
“If you want to solve, for example, the problem here in Darfur you will never never achieve it without solving the problem in Chad.”
The general commands 1 900 Nigerian, Rwandan and Senegalese soldiers, an assortment of multinational liaison officers and military advisers—about half his promised capacity—with a mandate to secure the civilian population.
It’s not the mission of Unamid (United Nations and African Union mission in Darfur) or its mandate to secure the porous border, which in many areas is not even marked, between Chad and Sudan.
El Geneina, the main town in West Darfur less than 30km from the border, is a muddy, impoverished settlement where residents pick out Chadian opposition from bands of armed men driving around in trucks.
Sudan denies any support of Chadian rebels while Chad makes the same denial over rebels in Darfur, including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that attacked Khartoum last month. After that attack, Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Chad.
“Everybody knows that the Chadian opposition is here in Darfur. Everybody knows that JEM are in Chad,” says Keita.
But direct involvement in Chadian affairs is beyond the mandate of the UN negotiating team on Darfur that launched failed peace talks eight months ago.
“I always tell them: ‘So why are you just dealing with the Darfur problem? You guys should involve yourselves also in solving the problem in Chad and solving the problem then between the two countries’,” said Keita.
“If you focus just on solving the problem in Darfur, you will never succeed. Never. It’s not possible. It should be a global strategy,” said Keita.
“We need to have somebody coordinating the work and handling the issue as a unique and global issue. That is what I’m not seeing,” he said.
‘There shouldn’t have been a separate mission for Darfur’
Fadallah Ahmed Abdallah, senior El Geneina municipality official, agrees.
“Any solution must take the two countries altogether in a coherent mission ... The international community must intervene to solve it. It cannot be solved alone,” he says.
UN officials say they are encouraging regional and international partners to address the problem between Chad and Sudan. It’s not their mandate to intervene directly.
“There are many things that the international community and the [UN Security] Council are doing. Probably they can do more and they are aware they can do more,” one official said.
Asked whether Chad and Sudan were conducting a proxy war, he said: “Yes, to a certain extent. Not an open war. It’s a regional conflict.”
Asked whether he should concern himself more with Chad, another official took issue with the mission being separate even from the UN Mission in Sudan, which oversees the end of a separate civil war between north and south.
“There shouldn’t have been a separate mission for Darfur for every logical reason, delays, logistics, permissions for a new mission ... When it was divided we couldn’t even operate. It was almost impossible.
“People who control Darfur are appointed by Khartoum. The wali here doesn’t decide anything. It is Khartoum. So for negotiations, you talk to this guy and then you go to Khartoum and back and forth,” said the official.
Francois Grignon, Africa programme director at the International Crisis Group think-tank, backs strong coordination between Unamid, European Union peacekeepers in Chad and the UN mission in the Central African Republic and Chad.
“At a political, operational and intelligence level they have to share information in order for all of them to fulfil their mandates,” he said.
“I’m not sure we’ve reached the stage where Unamid has the capacity or reached the level where they can put this as a top issue on the agenda,” he said. Sudan and Chad would oppose the missions acquiring too much information.
The approach does not convince everyone.
Saad Abdelrahman, sultan of the Dar Massalit tribe that straddles the border with long tentacles stretching into both countries, is reluctant to see the international community wade in.
“It’s better to leave Chad alone to solve its internal problems with the rebels and Sudan to do the same. Later on, they can solve the problems between Chad and Sudan with pressure from the international community,” he says.—AFP