Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Darfur -- Hell's Ninth Circle?

On September 11, the National Defense University in Washington, DC. is hosting a one-day conference on “Sudan’s Peace Settlement: Progress and Perils.”

The settlement in question is the January 2005 agreement that ended the 21-year rebellion of southern Sudanese led by the late John Garang who died in a helicopter crash three weeks after joining a unity government as first vice-president. That agreement’s most significant features were:

- an integrated “north-south unity government” that guaranteed a vice-presidency for
the south in the Khartoum government and the integration of southern fighters into
the Sudanese army;

- sharing revenues (50 per cent) from Sudan’s exploitation of its petroleum assets
between the north and south; and

- a referendum on independence for the south six years from the signing of the peace
agreement.

Many who reside in the south believe Khartoum is dragging its heels on implementing the accord because the international community’s attention has been diverted to Lebanon-Israel and to Darfur. Experts say there has been little if any progress in:

- changing security laws to bring them into line with the new national constitution;

- disarming, demobilizing, and integrating rebel fighters into the national army and
developing regional (north and south) armies;

- receiving any of the expected international resources to help with refugee resettlement;
and

- creating the capacity of the new south Sudan government to provide key services for
the population.

Considering just the treaty and its implementation, the failure to move forward decisively has bred widespread cynicism. The south is suspicious of the north and the north is suspicious of the south.

Meanwhile, Khartoum’s armed forces have renewed their assaults in western and northern Darfur against the Sudan Liberation Army. Media reports suggest that some “former rebel elements” may have joined Janjuweed irregulars and government troops in attacking villages. Estimates now place those killed in the Darfur region at 480,000 with another two million displaced – with more streaming into the camps along the border with or inside Chad. Moreover, Khartoum still refuses to agree to admit a UN peacekeeping force of 22,500 personnel to replace the overstretched 7,000 African Union force operating along the border with Chad. The AU contingent’s mandate expires the end of September, and without a replacement, many fear a genocidal assault by Khartoum on the Darfurans.

Negotiations with other rebel groups in Darfur and in eastern Sudan have made no progress. Complicating events on the ground in southern Sudan is Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army which reportedly has agreed in principle to end its 20 year war against Uganda and to stop attacking aid workers in southern Sudan. How well “principle” will translate into practice is the unknown question.

In Dante"'s Inferno, Hell's ninth circle is reserv ed for the great betrayers in human history At the Center is Satan and within his grasp are Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. One cannot help but wonder whether, were he writing today, Dante might not include some of those who have betrayed the people of Darfur.

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