Darfur ceasefire about to collapse

Posted in Africa | 23-Sep-05 | Source: Mail & Guardian Online

Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) militants.
Darfur risks sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness even as the Sudanese government and the main rebel groups in the region -- the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement -- resume peace talks, observers have warned.

Banditry and attacks on aid workers, Arab nomads and villages in Darfur have increased greatly and threaten to destabilise the fragile ceasefire in the volatile western Sudanese region.

The parties converged on the Nigerian capital on Thursday for the sixth round of the Abuja peace talks. In the past, fighting has tended to increase prior to talks. The alleged intention of this display of military power was to strengthen parties’ bargaining positions at the negotiating table.

“The month of September, so far, has not been a good month. There has been quite an increase in both the number and the scale of attacks,” said Radhia Achouri, spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in Sudan.

In the latest reported incident on Tuesday, the SLA accused the Sudanese government of killing 10 of its soldiers and 10 civilians during attacks on its positions.

The government has denied, however, that its forces were involved. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the African Union Mission in Sudan (Amis), Nourreddine Mezni, confirmed, “Fighting was going on ... We have an Amis presence on the ground, but yesterday it was too hot [with hostilities] to do any investigation.”

Observers in Darfur warned in August that the SLA chain of command was disintegrating and that “warlordism” was increasing in the region.

“The conflict in Darfur started as a counter-insurgency campaign that lasted a few months, with huge humanitarian consequences, but it has now transformed into a low-intensity conflict that is likely to evolve into a situation of chronic instability,” said Alexandre Liebeskind, head of Darfur operations for the Red Cross.

More than 2,9-million people continue to be affected by the conflict, of whom 1,85-million are internally displaced or have been forced to flee to neighbouring Chad.