"Violence Said to Be Rising in Sudan's Darfur Region"
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: August 4, 2010
UNITED NATIONS — Violence in the turbulent Darfur region of Sudan has spiked over the past several months, Alain Le Roy, the head of United Nations peacekeeping operations, said Wednesday. He attributed the increase to a combination of factors, including fitful peace talks, renewed tribal rivalries and overall tension in Africa’s largest nation as its south prepares for an independence referendum.
Calling the situation a “bleak picture,” Mr. Le Roy told a news conference that security had deteriorated significantly as optimism for a cease-fire in 2009 faded.
Recent United Nations statistics indicated that killings this year already rivaled the 832 violent deaths recorded for all of 2009. May alone, with 400 deaths, was the bloodiest month since peacekeeping forces were deployed in December 2007.
It is difficult to boil down the complicated tapestry of actors in the region, especially as rebel movements have splintered and increasingly well-armed criminals have flourished in the seven years the war has dragged on. Some recent bloodshed was even pegged to a Ponzi scheme that bilked thousands of their savings.
First, in May, the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, Darfur’s most powerful rebel group, broke off peace talks that had been taking place in Doha, Qatar, after the Sudanese government rejected its demand that it be the sole negotiator for the rebels at the table. Since then, the group has been trying to reassert itself militarily, and was forced into some confrontations after neighboring Chad improved ties with Khartoum and closed off the group’s usual escape routes over the border.
Second, the conflict was first set off by clashes between nomadic Arab tribes and more sedentary Africans over water supplies. With some two million people, mostly Africans, displaced from their lands, the Arab tribes are now fighting among themselves for the spoils, and water resources are even scarcer.
Third, southern Sudan, which has fought the north for 50 years in a war that has killed about two million people, is expected to vote for independence in a Jan. 9 referendum. The government in the north wants to pacify Darfur before the referendum — both because Darfur will take on added weight in the smaller country that Sudan will probably become and to discourage any Darfuri notions about breaking away.
“They want to reassert their political and military control,” said Fabienne Hara of the International Crisis Group. “They are very scared that Darfur will not be under their control by January 2011.”
The United Nations peacekeepers remain locked in constant confrontation with the government. For example, an Egyptian peacekeeper bled to death in May after the government refused to allow a helicopter flight for his evacuation, United Nations officials said. The Sudanese government regularly professes its full cooperation.
Much of the international attention on Sudan is focused on ensuring that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 between the north and the south does not collapse as it reaches its most critical moment. Just five months away from the independence vote, the commission to supervise the balloting lacks a leader, and knotty questions, including who will be eligible to vote, remain unanswered.
Larger issues like dividing oil resources between the north and south also remain to be negotiated.
Some analysts fault the Obama administration for lacking a clear-cut policy on Sudan, divided between the softer line of Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, President Obama’s Sudan envoy, and the more confrontational approach often voiced by Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations.
They deny a rift, but one senior State Department official said that Washington was still struggling to define a policy. “There is no sense of urgency that this is a crucial moment and we have to craft it,” said the official, speaking anonymously because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly on the matter.