International

war in darfur, peace in darfur, save darfur, darfur conflict, 
violence in southern darfur
Alfred de Montesquiou/AP
Gen. Martin Agwai, the commander of the new United Nations force that took over peacekeeping
in Darfur last year, stood in front of a map of the region in his headquarters at El Fasher, Sudan,
Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 during an interview with The Associated Press.

Claims of Peace in Darfur Disputed by Rebels, Officials

August 28, 2009 03:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Amid reports that the war in Darfur is over, tensions persist in the region's south, and some say reports of peace could even result in more violence and unrest.

Are Local Issues the Problem?

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Gen. Martin Luther Agwai of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur told Reuters this week, "I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur." He emphasized that localized security issues, including bandits and water conflicts, remain problematic. But the fact that Agwai is leaving his post has prompted some activists and U.N. officials to regard his statements as "self-serving," reported Neil MacFarquhar in an article for The New York Times.

Peacekeeping officials insist that Darfur remains a region in conflict, regardless of how the situation is characterized. "It undermines international urgency in resolving these problems if people are led to believe that the war in Darfur is over," John Prendergast, a founder of an anti-genocide campaign called the Enough Project, was quoted as saying by MacFarquhar.

According to the BBC, Sudan analyst Gill Lusk called Agwai's comments "unhelpful" because they give the false impression that Darfur's crisis no longer needs attention from aid organizations and global leaders. "[I]t is the government that turns the tap on and off—they can restart the violence whenever they want," Gill told the BBC.

Tension and fighting have cooled in Darfur as opposition groups splinter and receive less support from outside countries, and the majority of deaths are now the result of criminal acts, the Times reports. But 140,000 refugees have fled to camps since January, indicating the continuing threats to civilians.

MacFarquhar reports that hundreds of deaths have occurred in the south over the past few months, mostly due to conflicts over the area's rich oil reserves, and officials fear the situation could erupt into civil war again.

Reaction: Rebels dispute Agwai's statements

According to the Sudan Tribune, Agwai will be replaced by Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda, and was awarded the "Nelein Order (first class) in recognition of his efforts in Darfur peacekeeping mission" by the president of Sudan. Agwai's award and his statements have provoked anger among Darfur rebels who argue that the commander has failed "to protect civilians and to quell attacks against the internally displaced persons" in the region. Founder of the rebel SLM, Abdel-Wahid Al Nur, compared Agwai's assertions to those of former President Al-Bashir, and asserted that the war is not over.

Opinion & Analysis: Advisor says war isn't over

Andrew Meldrum of Global Post spoke with Colin Thomas-Jensen, a policy adviser for the Enough Project, about Agwai's controversial statements.

"This is incredibly premature. To say the war in Darfur is over directly contradicts what we see on the ground," Thomas-Jensen said. "Neither side is defeated and the government is building up its arms stockpile." Thomas-Jensen discusses at length what would been seen if the conflict were indeed over, and reveals why the Sudanese people "do not feel safe outside the camps." 

Background: North-south tensions

A border dispute is just one of several underlying issues between Sudan's north and south. The southern region of Abyei sits near the lucrative oil fields, but both the north and south have laid claim to the resources. 

In late July, an international panel at the Hague gave the Abyei region oil fields to the north and its "Khartoum-based government," the Los Angeles Times reported. The south was given "key tribal lands," a decision said by analysts to be an effort to "appease northerners." The north had been concerned that "they would be left without oil"—most Sudanese oil reserves lie in the south—if the south votes for its independence in 2011.

Historical Context: Sudan

Sudan is the largest and one of the most diverse African countries, hosting two major conflicts. According to the BBC, in addition to conflict and humanitarian crises in the western region of Darfur, there is a two-decade long dispute between the north and south regions, based on skirmishes between "pro-government Arab militias" and non-Arab groups over natural resources. The militias "are accused of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arab groups," the BBC's country profile on Sudan explains.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, North Darfur and areas of South and West Darfur have a history of "recurrent droughts," resulting in "low and unpredictable" crop yields, as well as "pest infestation" and dwindling livestock populations. Such issues continuously force workers to "migrate in search of employment leaving behind children, women and the elderly," and ultimately eroding "the coping capacities of communities."
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