Upcoming Peace Talks Will Not Solve the Complex Darfur Problem
Four years ago, the situation in Darfur could be described in rather simple terms. Two rebel groups had launched attacks on the Sudanese military. Khartoum, fighting the last throes of the civil war with Southern Sudan, responded by arming a militia drawn from tribes with a long history of conflict with the rebels, which came to be known as the Janjaweed or "devils on horseback." The resulting militia campaign resulted in more than 200,000 dead and more than 2.5 million displaced.
Today, the genocidal campaign has mostly subsided, if only because many of the targeted tribes have fled. Yet, Darfur has descended into chaos, making it unlikely that it can be saved by the scheduled peace negotiations and expanded peacekeeping mission.
The Darfur rebel movement has splintered from two groups to more than 15, many of which are little more than armed bandits. The militias armed by the central government have turned their guns on each other, against the government, and on targets across Sudan's borders. Rebels in the countries along Darfur's borders have taken advantage of the chaos and easy access to weapons, launching campaigns against the governments in Chad and the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Southern Sudan, where Africa's longest civil war was ended only by turning a blind eye to the complaints of the Darfur rebels, is also gearing up for a resumption of fighting. [See: "Instability on the March in Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic"]
To stop the violence, a long-delayed peacekeeping mission is preparing to enter Darfur at the end of the year, but only on the condition set by the Sudanese government that the forces are drawn solely from ill-prepared African armies. A separate, smaller U.N. peacekeeping mission may soon enter Chad and C.A.R., while the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Southern Sudan can only watch as both sides prepare for another war there. On the diplomatic side, impotent peace talks between the Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government were shelved for several months so that the rebels could find a common negotiating position. Having achieved the appearance of this, some rebels will negotiate with the government again later this month in Libya, the same country that two decades ago first armed, with weapons and pan-Arab ideology, the militias that would become the Janjaweed.
The conflict in Darfur is now too complex and dispersed to be resolved through the patchwork of peacekeeping missions and peace talks that have been proposed. While hopes are high in capitals around the world that this time it will be different, it seems likely that Darfur will only spread its turmoil further.
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