Although entirely unsurprising, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum has again defiantly rejected essential elements of the proposed UN/AU peace support operation to Darfur, this in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received last week. Designed to replace the large and robustly mandated force specified in UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006), the UN/AU “hybrid operation” negotiated in Addis Ababa (November 16, 2006) has always been dogged by ambiguity and by Khartoum’s insistence that a “hybrid operation” was quite different from a “hybrid force”; the regime has repeatedly and adamantly rejected the latter for over half a year.
There were three “phases” of the “hybrid operation” sketched in Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document. Notably, this was not a signed agreement, and several critical issues were left undecided. The evident conviction last November was that Khartoum would eventually accept UN terms of reference for each of these three phases: the “light support package” for the existing AU mission (some equipment and approximately 180 personnel); the “heavy support package” for the AU (the “phase” currently at issue); and ultimately (“phase three”) a large force of some 20,000 troops and civilian police.
But subsequent discussions have never moved past “phase two” (the “heavy support package” to the AU), and last week’s letter from NIF President Omar al-Bashir made clear that international assumptions about Khartoum’s willingness to see meaningful improvements in security for civilians and humanitarians in Darfur are entirely misguided. Although it was clear well before the letter from al-Bashir that Khartoum had no intention of facilitating or even allowing for significant changes in the current security dynamic in Darfur (see below), it has proved expedient for various international actors to profess surprise:
“‘I was stunned by the letter,’ [US Special Envoy for Sudan Andrew] Natsios said.” (Reuters [Washington, DC], March 14, 2007)
But of course this is simply more of an increasingly familiar disingenuousness on Natsios’ part. Only a week earlier, Natsios had confessed in Khartoum that no agreement had been reached on moving forward:
“After meeting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Natsios said there was still no agreement on allowing non-African peacekeeping troops to assist a cash-strapped and inexperienced African Union mission in Darfur.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 8, 2007)
Natsios, we should recall, was posturing last December about a US “Plan B” that would be deployed if a January 1, 2007 deadline for various benchmarks were not met by Khartoum. Now it would seem that Natsios is claiming “Plan B” is still in preparation:
“President George W. Bush’s special envoy for Darfur, Andrew Natsios, meanwhile told several human rights groups in a conference call Wednesday [March 14, 2007] that the administration was preparing its own ‘Plan B’ package of economic sanctions against Sudan, according to a participant in the [conference] call [with Natsios and nongovernmental organizations].” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Washington], March 15, 2007)
And language from the US State Department suggests that whatever “Plan B” is, it is not so much a plan for coercive US action as a vague gesture toward “international levers”:
“Asked whether Natsios would present Bashir with a list of new sanctions or other measures in a classified ‘plan B’ being considered by Washington if Khartoum continues to resist a hybrid force, [State Department spokesman Sean] McCormack said there were a number of ‘diplomatic levers’ available.”
“‘It is a tragedy what is happening in Darfur,’ he said. ‘That is why we think it is so important for the international system to use whatever levers are at its disposal to get the Sudanese government to change its behavior and act to allow that UN/AU force in.'” (Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC], March 5, 2007)
Suddenly “Plan B” isn’t a US plan but an effort to get “the international system to use whatever levers are at its disposal.” There is nothing more helpful from Mr. McCormack, although talk of further US sanctions has been around for many weeks. As most recently reported, such sanctions would oblige Sudan to convert all dollar-denominated contracts, transactions, and business dealings to other currencies (the Euro, perhaps even the Chinese yuan for oil transactions):
“Natsios declined to provide the names of companies that might be affected by new sanctions but international transactions involving US dollars would be blocked. ‘This will shut all that down,’ he added, without being more specific. He also did not name the three Sudanese who would be sanctioned but said they were well-known. US financial sanctions that restrict business in dollars potentially affect the entire global financial system since most banks have dealings in the United States, either through branches or correspondent banks.” (Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC], March 14, 2007)
But if Sudan’s primary international export wealth derives from crude oil, a highly valued and completely fungible international commodity, it’s not clear why this is not more an inconvenience than a potent threat that will have significant long-term effects, particularly given the survivalist calculations on the part of the serial gnocidaires who make up the NIF regime and control all elements of the merely notional Sudanese “Government of National Unity.” And if such sanctions are a potent tool, why has the US waited so long to deploy them? We have now entered the fifth year of a counter-insurgency war that early on became genocidal in nature: if the US has such leverage, why wasn’t it used hundreds of thousands of lives ago?
Here we might also reflect on previous sanctions per a March 2005 UN Security Council Resolution, imposed a year and a half ago, without discernible consequences, upon two rebel leaders, one Janjaweed leader, and one mid-level member of the NIF regime. A UN embargo on arms to Darfur has also proved completely meaningless, as has the demand that Khartoum cease aerial military operations in Darfur.
A NO FLY ZONE FOR DARFUR?
Inevitably, tough talk by the US and especially the UK reverts to the mooting of a “No-Fly Zone,” an aerial military effort to ground Khartoum’s Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships. But rarely have the difficulties in achieving this wholly desirable goal been considered with any detail.
Paul Smyth, head of the Aerospace and Information Studies Programme, at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, begins a recent study by declaring:
“No Fly Zones seem to offer a power and low-risk means of halting violence in Darfur. Under pressure to ‘do something’, politicians and commentators have been drawn to the possibility of a NFZ. Political leaders must not underestimate the scale of the challenge and secure an appropriately robust mandate; otherwise, intervention will be unable to meet unrealistic expectations.” (“No Fly Zones—Easy to Say, Difficult to Implement,” March 13, 2007 at
Among the daunting challenges to enforcing a No Fly Zone over Darfur:
 Basing for enforcement, in-flight re-fueling, and reconnaissance aircraft. If land-based, the French air-base at Abch, eastern Chad, offers the only promising possibility. But it would need to be expanded and lengthened to accommodate some of the aircraft involved. Moreover, it would require the assistance of the French, which has conspicuously not been offered. It would also require the agreement of Chadian President Idriss Dby. This now seems extremely unlikely in light of Dby’s recent decision to deny access to an international protection force to eastern Chad, after previously signaling that he favored such deployment. Certainly Khartoum would hold Dby responsible should a substantial air operation be based out of Chad.
The only alternative route that did not infringe upon the national airspace of Egypt or Libya would require carrier-basing in the Red Sea for combat aircraft. Flights would have to be through (hostile) Sudanese airspace, and this would very significantly increase the following:
*Re-fueling needs for the rotating squadrons of military jets enforcing the No Fly Zone and for the reconnaissance aircraft guiding these jets;
*Travel time to and from the site to be patrolled;
*Overall resources, including long-term deployment of at least one aircraft carrier in waters near wary or even hostile countries in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is perhaps worth noting that the USS Cole was attacked by al-Qaida operatives while in port in Yemen in 2000, and that a federal judge yesterday (March 15, 2007) found Khartoum significantly responsible for this event:
“Judge [Robert] Doumar said: ‘There is substantial evidence in this case presented by the expert testimony that the government of Sudan induced the particular bombing of the Cole by virtue of prior actions of the government of Sudan.'” (The Guardian [dateline: Washington], March 15, 2007)
Khartoum of course hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida during their formative years (1991-1996), and continued to support both, as well as other international terrorist organizations, on a wide scale following bin Laden’s decamping to Afghanistan.
 The key challenge in enforcing a No Fly Zone would be distinguishing humanitarian aircraft from military aircraft. For example, the Anonov cargo planes that do so much of the heavy lifting for humanitarian organizations are indistinguishable from Antonovs that drop bombs on innocent civilians. Khartoum has in the past painted its military aircraft the white color of the AU and humanitarian organizations; it would certainly do so again if confronting a No Fly Zone. Moreover, the regime would certainly attempt to engineer a mistake in identity so as to provoke the shooting down of a humanitarian Antonov, perhaps by forcing a re-routing of humanitarian flight paths.
Low-flying helicopter gunships might or might not be picked up by the required AWACS and JSTARS reconnaissance aircraft. Darfur is immense, and Khartoum might deploy these aircraft in ways meant to evade or confuse those attempting to track them. Gunships might, for example, fly in the radar “shadow” of the many helicopters used by humanitarians to reach remote locations to which there is no road access. Helicopters of various sorts, including those used by the AU, are constantly criss-crossing Darfur; and again we can be sure that Khartoum would attempt to engineer the destruction of a humanitarian or AU aircraft. It is quite conceivable that Khartoum would actually shoot down a humanitarian helicopter, destroy any revealing evidence subsequently, and blame the attack on those enforcing the No Fly Zone.
 A No Fly Zone is extremely resource-consumptive. A much better allocation of resources would focus first on the best troops presently deployed in Darfur under the auspices of the AU, those from Rwanda. Instead, there is a growing likelihood that Rwanda will pull its troops out of Darfur for lack of financing and the dismal performance of the AU overall in responding to the security crisis. Recent reports deserve urgent consideration:
“Rwanda, which has about 2,000 troops in Darfur, threatened Tuesday [March 13, 2007] to withdraw its troops unless more resources were committed to the AU force, saying its soldiers had seen ‘no results’ from their mission.” (Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC], March 13, 2007)
The East African (Kenya) reports in considerably more detail (March 5, 2007):
“Rwanda may be forced to recall its troops from the Darfur region of Sudan if the African Union does not soon reimburse it for what it has spent on keeping its troops there. Apparently, Kigali’s spending on the peacekeeping troops it has sent to the conflict area has disrupted its military budget, and it is now experiencing difficulties in keeping within the expenditure limits it agreed with the International Monetary Fund. Rwanda has a ‘poverty reduction and growth facility’ loan with the IMF that obliges it to implement specific macroeconomic reforms. According to a new IMF country report, Darfur is beginning to exert too much pressure on the country’s military spending.” [ ]
“‘While we would be willing to continue our efforts, we are concerned that the ensuing financial burden would hamper our own development and will thus review the situation by January 2007,’ says Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Musomi in a report to the Fund. Kigali has also said that in order to monitor the costs associated with peacekeeping, the Auditor General will conduct an audit of the spending in 2006 and the information will be published by end-March 2007. Expenditure reduction is a key plank of Rwanda’s programme with the IMF.”
For all the shortcomings of the AU, the Rwandan contingent has consistently proved the most effective, indeed the backbone of the AU force. Withdrawal by Rwanda would be devastating to the already exceedingly limited effectiveness of the AU force. It makes no sense to devote resources to a No Fly Zone when already effective “boots on the ground” may withdraw for lack of funding. Indeed, so cash-strapped is the AU that its interpreters have gone on strike for lack of payment, exacerbating already tense relations between the AU and the people they are supposed to protect:
“Interpreters working for African Union (AU) troops in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur have gone on strike over unpaid wages. Some 150 Sudanese interpreters who translate between AU troops and non-Arabic-speaking refugees say they have not been paid for three months.” (BBC, March 10, 2007)
Security in the near-term will be enhanced much more by a full complement of translators than a No Fly Zone that might not be effectively deployed for months. The ambitions of a No Fly Zone are again entirely commendable. But the practicability of a NFZ, as well as its required resources, deserves careful consideration, of a sort not often in evidence.
GENOCIDE BY ATTRITION CONTINUES IN THE ABSENCE OF SECURITY
There is an abundance of evidence that international actions to date have done nothing to halt the continuing deterioration of security throughout Darfur, with ever greater risks both to civilians and to the humanitarians upon whom they grow increasingly dependent. Khartoum has shown nothing but contempt for UN Security Council resolutions, for the findings of the International Criminal Court, and for yet another damning human rights report. The latter (“Report of the High-Level Mission on the Situation of Human Rights in Darfur,” March 7, 2007) appears to have been consigned to oblivion in Geneva, where it is very unlikely to be accepted by the new and already corrupted UN Human Rights Council. Opposition from Sudan’s allies in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, as well as Russia and China, seems to ensure that this report will have no more impact than its many authoritative predecessors. Even so, the most important conclusions of this 35-page report deserve to be noted:
“The situation in Darfur is characterized by gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law. War crimes and crimes against humanity continue across the region. [ ] The principal pattern is one of a violent counterinsurgency campaign waged by the Government of the Sudan in concert with Janjaweed/militia, and targeting mostly civilians. Rebel forces are also guilty of serious abuses of human rights and violations of humanitarian law.”
In the face of this, and given decreasing humanitarian access, the news stories from Darfur are all too predictable. Opheera McDoom of Reuters, who was recently and deservedly awarded the news organization’s highest award, yet again offers the most acute insight into the terrible existence endured by the people of this tortured land (“More Darfuris flee, begging for UN troops to help,” March 10, 2007 [dateline: Ardamata Camp, West Darfur]):
“Four years after the Darfur conflict erupted, new refugees continue to pour into growing makeshift camps telling of murder, pillage and rape. In Ardamata in West Darfur, thousands have only torn plastic sheeting propped up by sticks as shelter from dust and searing sun, after militia attacks drove them from their homes.”
“Tired aid workers battle on in the world’s largest humanitarian operation to provide food and healthcare to those who are fleeing attacks on their villages and on the roads. Those who have suffered for years are also tired of waiting for UN forces. An African Union (AU) force mandated to protect civilians, they say, does nothing to help and its troops are usually too scared themselves to leave their camp. ‘The only way to solve this problem is for the United Nations to come here to protect us,’ said Abdallah Hamad, whose village was attacked in December , forcing him to seek a haven in Ardamata, near the state capital el-Geneina.”
“He said the AU troops were incapable of fighting the militia, known as Janjaweed. ‘The African Union are useless. They themselves need UN protection,’ he said. He added that when armed militia entered the camp a few days earlier, the AU troops fled.” [ ]
“The stories from those newly arriving at Ardamata are the same painful testimonies heard all over Darfur in hundreds of camps in all the region’s three states over the past four years. ‘The Janjaweed came on horses, shot two men, hit another old woman in the chest and looted many houses,’ said Asil Ibrahim from Deleiba village in West Darfur. ‘They were shouting “you are blacks, you are tora bora (rebels),” and threatening people with their guns.'”
“Mariam Ishaq Adam, 80, was too weak to rise from her bed while armed militia looted her house and beat her daughters in front of her. It took her 10 days to walk to Ardamata camp, drinking dirty water on the road.”
“While Darfuris suffer, politicians in Khartoum, at UN headquarters in New York and at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa talk. Delegation after delegation is sent, and statement after statement written. But for Darfuris who fled with only the clothes on their back to squat in miserable camps, little has changed.”
“The future of those in the camps looks bleak. ‘If they don’t bring the UN forces here then we are going to leave this country,’ said Adam Abdel Rahman, another new arrival in Ardamata.”
But leaving for Chad no longer provides any greater security. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that there are already 232,000 refugees in a dozen camps near the Chad/Darfur border, in addition to more than 120,000 Chadian Internally Displaced Persons. But the number of Darfuri refugees is certainly much greater, and we catch a glimpse of their existence in a dispatch from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (March 11, 2007):
“Driving through the arid dustbowl around Birak in eastern Chad, just a few kilometres from the western border of war-torn Sudan, you could easily miss the influxes of refugees. Hidden away from the naked eye, only local people can point to where the thousands are gathering in scattered groups. A wall of thorny branches marks out a family’s territory, cooking pots and bowls hang from the trees, a brightly coloured piece of clothing flaps in the wind, a dusty child sits playing in the dirt: through the scattered foliage and thicket, isolated signs of life become discernible.”
“Spread out across 600 km of desiccated desert, protected only by trees and bush, and foraging to survive in the scrub, are up to 135,000 people from the Darfur region of western Sudan. Hidden from the outside world, and extremely hard to find for aid workers trying to assist them, refugees in Kourbileke (about 2 km from the border) told IRIN they had fled for their lives from Sudanese bombs on 16 January.”
“‘The bombing was in the surrounding villages, then it came to our village [Habilah],’ said Abd al-Karim Abbakar Anaw, who described himself as a Sudanese chief. ‘They are [still] bombing every day. We heard it today at 7:00 a.m. this morning.'” (UN IRIN, [dateline: Kourbileke, eastern Chad], March 11, 2007)
The dateline of this IRIN dispatch—March 11, 2007—and the observation by Darfuri refugee Abd al-Karim Abbakar Anaw—“They are [still] bombing every day. We heard it today at 7:00 a.m. this morning”—are both worth noting.
For they are of particular of significance in the context of recent comments on this subject made by the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, in which he asserted that Khartoum has halted “aerial bombings of rebel positions since February 11, 2007” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], March 6, 2007). What are we to make of this claim? Khartoum continues to bomb both rebel and civilian positions in Darfur, and to use the Antonovs as weapons of terror by lingering over villages to force flight by civilians. This could be easily confirmed by Eliasson if he were really interested in the truth about Darfur’s realities.
The IRIN dispatch, confirming Khartoum’s continuing Antonov bombing in mid-March, continues:
“First the army came in tanks with militias on horseback, then they stole the villagers’ cattle from near the well, [Abd al-Karim Abbakar Anaw] said. The next day a plane dropped bombs on the village, killing eight people and forcing the entire population—about 1,750—to flee. In the chaos, seven people—four men and three women—were abducted, he added. ‘The goal is to drive away the villagers so they can take over… They burn all the houses, steal everything, and the population flees because they don’t have anything left.'”
“A teacher, Muhammad Husayn Ali, told IRIN that between 40 and 50 army vehicles had arrived in Habilah that day, accompanied by 500 militiamen, followed by ‘intense aerial bombardments’ by Antonov bombers. Ten women were raped, five of whom were carried off to Junaynah [also el-Geneina] in western Darfur, added a young woman with four children, Samirah Hasan Salih.”
Even for those who reach the camps, either in Darfur or Chad, insecurity has grown intolerable. Indeed, the impressively intrepid Alfred de Montesquiou of Associated Press reports form Anka, North Darfur:
“With violence high in Darfur’s refugee camps, some of those driven from their homes are choosing to stay away, living in rebel-controlled areas in constant fear of government or militia attack. They struggle to stay alive with little access to outside humanitarian aid. Jabr Ali is one of them. On a recent day, the farmer crouched next to a pile of thorns and carefully lifted one branch, pointing to an unexploded bomb that lay stuck in the sand near his mud hut home. He had put the pile of thorns around the shell to prevent his 10 children from getting near, and to avoid losing more cattle. More than a dozen cattle had died during the air raid when the bomb was dropped a few weeks earlier. Ali blamed government airplanes.”
“The mud huts where he and his family live are near to Anka, a once-busy regional center in Darfur’s vast northern expanse, but now a ghost town. Ali wants to leave the region—in what would be his third relocation since violence erupted in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated central Sudanese government in Khartoum.”
“But Ali said he didn’t have the money to pay for the trip of several hundred miles to Darfur refugee camps in neighboring Chad. And, closer refugee camps in Darfur aren’t an option either, Ali said, because they lay in zones controlled by Sudan’s central government. Ali, 45, said that because his tribe is strongly associated with the Darfur rebels, he feared government forces would kill him if he went to a Darfur refugee camp.” [ ]
“‘Of course, it’s harder to stay here than to go in a refugee camp,’ said Yaya Moussa, a rebel who, like his brothers, is usually away fighting or attending cattle in the desert. ‘But this is our land,’ he said, ‘we know that if we leave it, we’ll never get it back.’ Increasingly, Darfur civilians outside the refugee camps also face violence from a former rebel group that signed a peace deal with the government last fall and are now part of the government, the UN says. Some rebels charge that the former rebels now act as a proxy for the government, doing its work just as the janjaweed do.”
“More than 15,000 of the 78,500 who fled their homes in Darfur in January and February were trying to escape attacks from the former rebels, according to a UN report released Wednesday [March 16, 2007]. Of those who fled, another 34,000 said they were fleeing either the government or the janjaweed, the UN said.” (Associated Press [dateline: Anka, North Darfur], March 14, 2007)
The “former rebels” referred to here are primarily those of the brutal SLA/Minni Minawi faction, and they have been explicitly named in several recent reports:
“In the tense southern city of Gereida, two peacekeepers were shot dead and a third critically wounded last week. Sources said the troops were killed by members of the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minnawi—the only rebel leader to sign on to the 5 May  Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with the government.” (UN IRIN [dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], March 13, 2007)
SLA/Minni Minawi rebels control the area around the huge Gereida IDP camp, which presently holds some 130,000 displaced persons—the largest such camp in Darfur, indeed the world. AU and humanitarian officials both blame SLA/Minni Minawi forces for the terrible attack on aid workers this past December 18th, which targeted the compounds of Action Against Hunger and Oxfam International:
“In addition to the rape [of an international aid worker], foreign workers were subjected to mock executions. Despite SLA denials, AU and aid workers say it would be impossible for bandits to escape with a dozen SUVs and not be stopped or noticed by SLA[/Minni Minawi] checkpoints. The day after the attack, more than 70 international aid workers left Gereida. Their work is now handled by fewer than a dozen Red Cross employees. ‘The attack in Gereida was a new level,’ said a representative for an aid group that has pulled out of the camp. Humanitarian groups say they will not return until SLA forces can guarantee their safety and arrange for the return of their vehicles.”
“Gereida is not alone. Aid workers have also evacuated other hot zones in Darfur, including Kutum, about 200 miles northwest of here. Some aid groups have restricted staff to the three provincial capitals in the Darfur region. Citing the rising risk, the French organization Doctors of the World terminated operations in Darfur in January, and others have threatened to follow suit.”
(Los Angeles Times [dateline: Gereida], March 13, 2007)
“NOT SATISFACTORY”—UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Khartoum’s response to key elements of the UN/AU security force for Darfur
Given such realities, and the all too conspicuous unwillingness on Khartoum’s part to allow for any meaningful response to the security crisis in Darfur, what will the international community do? What follows from the regime’s defiant refusal to accept even a re-negotiated UN/AU “hybrid force”? There is a discernible rise in the rhetorical temperature, but as actual actions draw closer, there are few responses that seem encouraging. Britain—whose senior military official, General Sir Mike Jackson, offered in summer 2004 to deploy a brigade (5,000 troops) to Darfur—has been reduced to assigning the task of military response with troops to others:
“British Prime Minister Tony Blair overnight urged the world to get tough with Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, saying troops should be sent into the country to stop chaos in Darfur from spreading. Defending Britain’s role in the US-led war in Iraq, Mr Blair said global leaders had to be prepared to intervene wherever they thought security was being threatened. ‘I would today take a far tougher line on Sudan,’ he said in an interview with Sky television.”
“‘I don’t think we are able to send troops in but I certainly think the international community should be.'” (Reuters [dateline: London], March 16, 2007)
The US is still trying to figure out what “Plan B” really means, and how to avoid the all too obvious inference that it was sheer bluffing on the part of Special Envoy Natsios.
And China, though crafting its international responses to Darfur more carefully, has made clear that its basic principle still governs:
“[British ambassador to the UN Emyr] Jones Parry expressed confidence that China, a major consumer of Sudanese oil and previously opposed to sanctions, would not stand in the way of additional UN measures. But a senior Chinese diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said China ‘never ever believes’ that sanctions will resolve the crisis in Darfur. ‘Our sense is that we are moving closer towards having our Sudanese friends consider and deploy’ that peacekeeping force.” (Washington Post [dateline: UN/New York], March 14, 2007)
Given the contents of NIF President al-Bashir’s response to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it is difficult to see any but an expedient basis for such “sensibility.”
There is no near-term prospect of Khartoum’s confronting a meaningful set of sanctions, or coercive international military demands that adequate security forces be allowed to deploy to Darfur. A withdrawal by Rwandan forces seems the more likely event. In the absence of adequate security, for both civilians and humanitarians, the consequences of a fifth year of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare will continue—as we see them, now, with searing and shameful clarity.
[excerpt from March 9, 2007 analysis
KHARTOUM CONTINUES TO STONEWALL ON INTERNATIONAL FORCES TO DARFUR
Even as the humanitarian situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate rapidly because of insecurity, Khartoum refuses to accept any significant augmentation of the desperately inadequate African Union force. US Special Envoy Natsios was compelled by circumstances to offer a blunt assessment following his much-heralded trip to Sudan and Khartoum:
“After meeting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Natsios said there was still no agreement on allowing non-African peacekeeping troops to assist a cash-strapped and inexperienced African Union mission in Darfur.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 8, 2007)
As of Secretary-General Ban’s February 26, 2007 Report to the Security Council, the US and its allies within the world community had succeeded in deploying a mere 81 technical experts to a badly under-manned, under-equipped, and deeply demoralized AU force…a force now on the verge of collapse.
The desperate weakness of the AU force is captured all too well in a vignette from the outskirts of Kutum (North Darfur):
“On February 1,  an unarmed African Union civilian police officer was shot dead and his vehicle stolen while on a routine patrol at Kassab IDP camp–home to 30,000 people. The AU immediately ceased patrols to the camp, fearing for the lives of other unarmed officers. Three weeks later, with the AU still unwilling to patrol, two Darfuri girls, ages eight and 10, were collecting firewood when they were abducted by three armed men who took them to an abandoned hut, made them remove their clothes and raped them.” (Voice of America [dateline: Kutum, North Darfur], March 7, 2007)
Attacks on the AU have recently increased sharply and there is clear risk of dramatic attenuation rather than augmentation of this force:
“Two African Union peacekeepers were killed and one was seriously wounded in Sudan’s violent west when former Darfur rebel troops opened fire on them, an AU statement said on Tuesday [March 6, 2007]. The death tally brought to 11 the number of AU personnel killed since it started its mission in Darfur in 2004. ‘Two AU Protection Force soldiers were abducted and subsequently killed. A third soldier was critically injured,’ the statement said. ‘This deplorable and condemnable act was perpetrated by gunmen believed to be elements belonging to SLM (Minni [Minawi]), which is in full control of Gereida [South Darfur].'” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 6, 2007)
The lack of diplomatic progress, despite disingenuous words to the contrary from UN officials, and the ongoing collapse of the African Union as a minimal security presence in Darfur, portend even greater catastrophe. The UN News Center reports (March 8, 2007) on what could easily become the scenario for future massacres in camps for displaced persons:
“Hundreds of Arab militia in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region recently surrounded a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) after abducting two civilians from inside the camp, forcing the temporary suspension of humanitarian work there, the United Nations mission to the impoverished country said today.”
“On Wednesday [March 7, 2007], Arab militiamen swept through Ardamata IDP camp in West Darfur, capturing two civilians in connection with the killing of one of their relatives, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said in a press release, adding the two suspects had then been taken to the Government police station but the militia refused to allow the officers to investigate.”
This explosive confrontation gives us a terrifying glimpse of horrors that now seem inevitable, and which could propel rapid humanitarian withdrawal.
Why does the African Union remain, with full knowledge by the entire world community, the only source of security on the ground in Darfur? Why has no international force deployed to eastern Chad? There are finally as many answers as there are international actors of consequence, but all take final form in the unrelenting defiance on the part of Khartoum’s gnocidaires. And why should these moral barbarians relent? They have felt no consequences for their actions, and there are no consequences in prospect. Indeed, the regime’s defiance, despite its conspicuous nature, is not honestly acknowledged: an international charade persists in which Khartoum is simply not credited for meaning what it says, even when those words are fully borne out by actions.
Most conspicuously, various international actors pretend that Khartoum has agreed to a UN/AU “hybrid force.” But at every turn since the “High Level Consultation on Darfur” (November 16, 2006) convened by the UN and AU in Addis Ababa, Khartoum has insisted that it agreed only to a UN/AU “hybrid operation.” And the essential difference between a “force” and an “operation” has been just as insistently asserted: the latter, all that has been agreed to, does not include international or non-AU troops, a point just reiterated to US Special Envoy Natsios. The disconnect in basic assumptions is at times so striking that it is impossible not to believe that a willful ignorance is at work. The UN News Service (March 7, 2007) declares that,
“[Secretary General] Ban has already written to Mr. Bashir on the second phase, which includes the provision of additional personnel and equipment, but has not yet received a reply. Ban’s Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson noted to reporters yesterday that the Sudanese had accepted in principle the hybrid force.”
But this is wishful thinking on the slippery Eliasson’s part, as is Eliasson’s assertion that Khartoum has halted “aerial bombings of rebel positions since February 11, 2007” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], March 6, 2007). There has been no such cessation, and an extremely reliable regional source reports to this writer (March 8, 2007):
[edited for clarity] “Antonov was over the area of North Darfur on March 6 and 7 . It was hovering over its targets—Berdi, el-Hosh, Wadi Hawar, and el-Wakhaim—for two days. We reported this to the UN Mission in el-Fasher, security department.”
There have been other highly credible reports of bombing subsequent to Eliasson’s February 11, 2007 “cessation” date. [see above—ER, March 16, 2007]
Of the supposed “agreement in principle” to a “hybrid force,” Eliasson is simply in error. While Secretary-General Ban and Security Council members continue their lengthy wait for a letter from Khartoum concerning UN augmenting of the AU, one that Khartoum claims was signed and sent by President al-Bashir many days ago, the Sudan Media Center, represents the views of the regime fully explicitly:
“Presidency of the Republic confirms that implementation of the last phase of three packages support for AU forces in Darfur should be determined according to requirements of AU forces. Presidential press advisor Mahjoub Fadul Badri told [the Sudan Media Center] that government has agreed on hybrid operations with UN and AU in Darfur and not hybrid forces. That means that there is possibility of international technicians, experts and instructors without deployment of armed troops.” (Sudan Media Center, March 4, 2007)
Precisely this claim has been made repeatedly, over many months now, by a range of senior NIF officials. Majzoub al-Khalifa, who negotiated the Darfur Peace Agreement for Khartoum, declared (January 29, 2007) that, “‘We have agreed on a hybrid [AU/UN] operation not a hybrid force'” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 29, 2007). The February 1, 2007 UN Bulletin for Sudan reports that,
“On 31 January , local media reported that Presidential Assistant Nafie [Ali Nafie] reiterated Government of Sudan rejection of any form of what he described as ‘evil’ colonization, saying that the Government of Sudan will categorically refuse deployment of foreign troops regardless of the helmet they wear. The statement was made during his visit to Kabkabiya, North Darfur.”
These two comments, one for international the other for domestic consumption, are entirely consistent with many other remarks coming from the most senior members of the National Islamic Front for months now, including from President al-Bashir. There has been no wavering, and certainly nothing that amounts to what Eliasson calls an acceptance “in principle [of] the hybrid force.” Almost as if to ensure that such fabrication as Eliasson has offered is simply not credible, Agence France-Presse reports on the words of Khartoum’s UN ambassador concerning the long-awaited letter from al-Bashir:
“France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere meanwhile expressed disappointment that Beshir had not yet replied to a letter from UN chief Ban Ki-moon on a proposed joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation in Darfur. ‘I am disappointed that we have not yet received the letter… We have been told for days that this letter was about to come,’ he noted. ‘If it does not come, then we’ll have to see what to do and there are some delegations on the council thinking about taking measures (sanctions).’ [Meanwhile,] Sudan’s UN envoy Abdalmahmood Mohamad indicated that the letter was on its way but ‘will not contain anything new.'” (AFP [dateline: UN/New York], March 6, 2007)
The letter “will not contain anything new”—i.e., it will contain no further concessions on either the nature of the so-called “heavy package” of UN support for the AU, or on the “third phase,” the actual force that will provide security in Darfur. Associated Press had four days earlier reported developments concerning the al-Bashir letter from a slightly different perspective:
“Al-Bashir’s letter expresses his commitment but also raises ‘issues of operational, technical and legal aspects’ of the proposal, Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem told The Associated Press. He declined to elaborate on those concerns.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], March 2, 2007)
But of course such “issues of operational, technical and legal aspects” of the proposal have been retarding all progress on actual deployment since the Addis Ababa “High Level Consultation on Darfur” of November 16, 2006—almost four months ago. This is why several days later Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem attempted to deflate expectations by declaring that al-Bashir’s letter “will not contain anything new.” In fact, there is every reason to believe that the distance between professed UN and Western expectations and what Khartoum intends to accede to is unbridgeably great. Associated Press reports from the UN (March 7, 2007) that the “second phase” of UN assistance to the AU will consist of the deployment of “more than 3,000 UN military, police and civilian personnel, along with substantial aviation and logistical assets.”
But this “second phase” is reported in very different, indeed almost unrecognizable form by The Sudan Tribune ([dateline: Khartoum], February 25, 2007):
“Sudan said that negotiations are going on with the African Union and the UN to implement the second phase of the UN support to the African troops in Darfur, the foreign ministry said that this phase includes between 400 to 500 experts and technicians.”
“The spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, Ali al-Sadiq, said in press statements yesterday that the three sides would implement the second package after it was approved. He said the second package would cost 45m dollars which the UN had pledged to provide. Al-Sadiq said the second package involved between 400 and 500 experts and technicians and would take between two to three months to implement.”
Those wondering why the letter from Khartoum is taking so very long to arrive at UN headquarters should reflect on these completely different understandings of “phase two” of the UN assistance package to the AU. And this leaves entirely aside the actual force, of approximately 20,000 total troops and civilian police, that the UN and Western countries have been assuming. The issue is not yet to the point of meaningful negotiation, even as this is a force that Khartoum has adamantly insisted comprise only AU troops. Further, the size and mandate of the force are still matters completely undecided, particularly since Khartoum insists that the issues will be decided by an assessment of security needs conducted by the “Tripartite Commission” of which it is a member, and with what is in effect veto power.
[This writer received at 3:30pm EST today (March 9, 2007) an unofficial translation of the letter from al-Bashir to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, though not the 14-page technical annex to the letter. Unsurprisingly, despite professed hopes by UN officials and Western nations, this document is but another epistolary straight-arming of the international community, of a piece with al-Bashir’s previous letter (December 23, 2007) to then-Secretary General Kofi Annan. The present letter declares that features of the second, “heavy” support package to the AU “need to be clarified.” It continually, insistently cleaves to the Darfur Peace Agreement as the only basis for discussion of the crisis in Darfur. Indeed, the letter argues that “some paragraphs of the Final Report [on the AU/UN Consultations on the UN Proposed Heavy Support Package to the AU Mission in Darfur] contravene many paragraphs of the DPA.” This leads to the inevitable and paralyzing conclusion: “Therefore, proposals that tend to amend, nullify or suspend any article of the Darfur Peace Agreement will not be acceptable.”
Furthermore, al-Bashir insists that “our understanding of the UN support packages is that the UN will provide technical, logistical, financial expertise, and civil and military consultants with ranks below that of the military commander appointed by the African Union. In phase three, the AU forces implementing that phase, in terms of control or command, must remain forces of the African Union, supported by the UN as per the two [initial support] packages.”
This is no more than has been previously re-cycled by al-Bashir and other National Islamic Front leaders over the past four months. It creates ambiguity where there was to be clarity; it arrogates to Khartoum’s gnocidaires veto power through the “Tripartite Mechanism” (invoked in the concluding paragraph of the letter). The regime’s UN Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem is entirely accurate in having declared that al-Bashir’s letter “will not contain anything new.” Nothing new at all, and thus a preservation of the genocidal status quo.
Al-Bashir also declares of humanitarian operations in Darfur: “My government is committed to continue supporting the humanitarian efforts and to extend all necessary and possible facilitations through an energized fast track.”
This long-awaited letter is a nauseating exercise in mendacity and a compelling exemplar of human evil.]