Darfur peace accord sparks rising insecurity

A May deal that was supposed to help end the conflict in Darfur has instead sparked months of fighting between rival rebel factions, according to aid groups, the United Nations and beleaguered African Union peacekeepers.

Fresh clashes have left countless dead in the last two months and displaced nearly 50 000 people. This in a region where more than two-million had already fled their homes and one-million more rely on food aid because their fields have been razed or they’re too afraid to go out to farm. More than 200 000 people have been killed in Darfur since ethnic African tribes rose in revolt against the Arab-led Khartoum government in early 2003.

The May 5 peace accord signed in Nigeria was initially hailed as a breakthrough, but since then ”it’s gotten a lot worse on every level,” said Alun McDonald, spokesperson for the British charity, Oxfam, in Sudan.

His grim assessment Sunday was echoed by United Nations officials as well as Baba Gana Kingibe, a Nigerian who heads the undermanned, under-equipped African Union peacekeeping mission.

Security in Darfur ”is plummeting,” Kingibe said on Sunday in Darfur. ”It’s gone downhill.”

Even before the recent deterioration, the AU had wanted to hand over to a bigger and more robust UN mission, a move Sudan President Omar al-Bashir staunchly opposes.

Kingibe said his force needs to be doubled and better equipped — not only with vehicles, fuel and forces, but with better arms to compete against rebels’ superior firepower. The African troops have automatic rifles and heavier guns mounted on armoured vehicles, but no rockets, mortars or artillery.

Kingibe said that because Darfur is vast, he needs air power to patrol, but the force only has only 24 unarmed helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft that mainly carry out administrative tasks like ferrying food supplies to the mission.

Funding is also an issue. Peacekeepers haven’t been paid since June. The mission’s $24-million monthly bill is footed largely by the European Union. Handing over the mission to UN control would spread costs among member states.

The overall leader of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minnawi signed the Darfur peace agreement in May, but a breakaway Sudan Liberation Army faction and the Justice and Equality Movement rejected the deal, arguing it didn’t go far enough to meet their demands.

Since then, rebel groups have splintered even further, giving birth to new factions with names like the National Redemption Front and G-19. Abdelwahid Elnur, who led the rejectionist faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, was reportedly replaced after a meeting of 30 of his commanders, one aid worker said.

Kingibe said Minnawi’s forces had been pushed out of much of their territory in North Darfur by G-19 and other factions in recent weeks, though Minnawi still controls swaths of South Darfur.

Minnawi was appointed a presidential adviser on Saturday, taking a post created by the peace agreement.

Rebels who did not sign the peace accord are demanding governorships in the three Darfur states, majority control of Darfur assemblies, and representation in the national Parliament as well as Cabinet portfolios, including one of the two vice-presidential posts. They also demand compensation for losses during the war, including land and livelihoods.

Some say the splinter rebel factions are also jockeying for territory before land is demarcated under the accord.

Kingibe said rebels had infiltrated some camps for those displaced by the fighting, arming those inside.

Turid Laegreid, head of the UN’s humanitarian coordination office in El Fasher, said insecurity in Darfur had increased not just since May, but since the beginning of the year. ”We are seeing a worsening of the humanitarian situation, with more displacement, more conflict and less access because of increased fighting,” she said.

The UN World Food Program was unable to deliver supplies to 200 000 people in June, and Médécins Sans Frontières recently evacuated medical teams in two villages.

Speaking in Sudan’s dust-swept capital, Khartoum, Oxfam’s McDonald said July was ”the worst since the conflict started in terms of violence toward aid workers”.

Eight Sudanese humanitarian workers were killed last month — either in road ambushes, working at water pumps, or, in one case, during a nighttime village attack.

McDonald said aid vehicles are being hijacked and staff abducted and assaulted. Many aid workers are now limited to main towns because driving out on rural roads is unsafe.

The result: less humanitarian access to displaced camps and rising malnutrition, diarrhoea and waterborne disease.

Some of the worst violence occurred in several villages around Korma, 70km north-west of El Fasher, according to Amnesty International, which said 72 people were killed, 103 injured and 29 women raped in July 4-8 attacks on civilians.

The London-based rights group blamed those assaults on Minnawi’s faction, which it said was ”reportedly supported by Sudan armed forces” and Arab-led janjaweed militias.

The government was initially accused of backing the janjaweed, accused of some of the worst atrocities of the war, against the rebels. The Amnesty report raises the possibility the peace accord has created new and volatile alliances.

”We are at a critical crossroads. Peace is attainable and yet so elusive,” Kingibe said during an interview in is office in El Fasher, a largely empty region of reddish desert punctuated by small mountains. – Sapa-AP

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Todd Pitman
Todd Pitman works from [email protected] Regional Public Information Officer, UN Human Rights (OHCHR), based in Bangkok. Ex-AP foreign correspondent in Africa and Asia-Pacific. Todd Pitman has over 2342 followers on Twitter.

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