Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 May 2007
Issue No. 843
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Mohammad Abul Fadl

Between Sudan and the UN

Until now a quasi-mediator between the UN and Sudan, the African Union looks set to open the way for more rigorous international intervention in Darfur, writes Mohammad Abul Fadl*

Sudan and the UN are at opposite ends of the spectrum over Darfur. Ban Ki-moon, the new UN secretary-general, sees Darfur as a test of his political aptitude and the prestige of his organisation. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is acting as if its national dignity is at stake. The African Union (AU) is caught between the two.

On 16-17 April Ban Ki-moon met AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare in New York to discuss the debacle. Officials from Sudan, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the UN had already met in Addis Ababa 9 April to discuss phase two of an agreement struck in November 2006 on Darfur. The agreement calls for the deployment of international peacekeeping troops in the region in three stages. The Addis Ababa meeting resulted in a decision to send technical experts to Darfur as a prelude to deploying nearly 2,500 African troops supported by helicopters and armoured vehicles. The head of the Sudanese delegation had reservations about the helicopters, but reluctantly agreed to their deployment. Stage one of the UN plan was easier, for it was more limited in scope. It involved the deployment of 105 servicemen, 48 civilians and 34 policemen using $21 million worth of hardware.

In November 2006, the PSC had met in Abuja and voiced support for most of Sudan's demands, especially with regard to PSC ratification of stages one and two of the plan. As for stage three -- which culminates in the deployment of 17,000 UN-AU troops and 3,000 police officers in Darfur -- the PSC decided that Darfur needed a special representative appointed jointly by the heads of the AU and UN. The AU mission, the PSC agreed, needed UN backing in matters of control and command. The PSC renewed the mandate of the AU mission to Sudan for six months, starting 1 January 2007.

The Abuja decisions didn't stray much from the Sudanese government's plan of action. UN Security Council Resolution 1706 is shelved for the moment, but the UN was asked to give financial and logistical support to AU troops. The commander of international troops in Darfur would be African, and UN advice would be considered non-binding. The size of troop deployment is to be decided by the situation on the ground. So the Sudanese government ends up having some control over the situation.

Although Sudan is trying to give the world the impression that the AU, not the UN, is calling the shots, Khartoum cannot reverse the internationalisation of the Darfur issue. Major international powers are not allowing the Sudanese government to have its way, and the AU is coming to the realisation that Darfur is too much of a mess to be handled exclusively within the African continent. Already the AU is facing armed attacks in the war-torn region. For example, a senior Nigerian officer was abducted on 10 December 2006. A Nigerian policeman was also killed in the Kassab refugee camp in northern Darfur. Two Nigerian servicemen were killed in Gharida on 5 March 2007. A helicopter was fired at in Kormi, in late March. Five Senegalese officers were killed in Um Baru on 1 April. In all, 17 African servicemen have been killed since the mission started, and the numbers are likely to rise.

The Gharida and Um Baru incidents happened in areas controlled by the Minawi wing of the Sudan Liberation Army, while the Kormi assault took place in an area controlled by Minawi's rival, Abdel Wahed Nour. The attacks were part of a harassment campaign staged to undermine AU operations. In a statement issued 2 April, AU Chairman Konare said that the attacks were not just aimed at sabotaging AU efforts in Darfur, but at destroying peace efforts overall.

The AU needs outside help. Even with additional UN help, it may not be able to carry out its mission. As the AU realises just that, it is changing its tack on Darfur. There was a time when the AU was quite sympathetic to the views of the Sudanese government. Now it knows that the humanitarian situation requires the presence of non-African troops. In its last two summits, the AU distanced itself from the Sudanese government. This means that, sooner or later, the international community will become more involved in Darfur.

The US wants to enlarge UN involvement in Darfur, mainly through joint UN-AU forces. In a recent visit to Sudan, Assistant Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Khartoum that it should improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur or else face international isolation. So far, the Sudanese government has been using the AU as a buffer against UN involvement rather than a means of addressing the crisis. But the AU is tired of playing this game, especially as it became clear that the same forces that opposed the Abuja agreement were undermining the AU mission.

Sooner or later, the UN will have to make vigorous efforts to secure peace in Darfur. All indications are that the AU is not going to stand in its way.

* The writer is a researcher specialised in African and Sudanese affairs.

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