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Darfur – when peace talks cause conflict
It’s well-known that peace talks can cause fighting. I remember before every round of doomed negotiations on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement.
But the violence in the past week in the camps that are home for two million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different.
It would be easy to blame the mediators who convinced more than 400 members of civil society groups to join a peace talks in Qatar which the two main rebel groups are not presently attending.
Some Darfuris, after seven years in the camps, decided the rebel leaders were unable to represent the interests of their people and went to make sure their voices were heard.
It was their return to the rebel-dominated Kalma Camp in South Darfur and the camps around Zalingei in West Darfur that caused fighting that claimed at least eight lives, injured dozens and drove thousands to flee the camps they had sought refuge in years ago.
But to blame only the mediators would ignore the problems they inherited — which pretty much amount to a mission impossible.
Rebel commanders have for years been forming factions by the dozen. They were disillusioned with their leaders, most of whom were young and inexperienced before being propelled into the international limelight as Darfur’s conflict went global.
Those factions are now drowning in a sea of personal conflicts and individuals’ desire for power, while the people they went to war to protect are arguably worse off than before the revolt. Darfur has descended into a chaotic, anarchic, violent mess that neither Khartoum nor the rebel leaders are able to clean up.
International intervention has also worsened divisions. Diplomats say U.S. envoy Scott Gration wanted to find a way to break Sudan Liberation Army leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur’s hold over the refugee camps.
He began to help smaller factions, hoping to cut off Nur’s support, the diplomats said. The camp violence is just one manifestation of that policy. In another, Nur’s stronghold in Jabel Marra descended into infighting that killed dozens and forced tens of thousands more to flee this year.
Talks in Qatar are now focused on a new rebel coalition of tiny factions with few forces on the ground, albeit with an impressive figure — former U.N. Economic Commission for Africa staffer Al-Tijani Sese — brought in to lead them this year.
Sese, from a leading family in the Fur tribe, has garnered some positive reaction in the camps, sowing the seeds of dissent against Nur which manifested itself into the violent confrontations in Kalma and Zalingei in July.
While the mediators’ idea that Sese would help bring Darfuris on board with the peace process was based on good faith, the reality alienated the two main Darfur rebel groups and divided the camps.
Further impacting the mediators’ efforts is the government’s continued military action, which prompted the JEM rebel group to walk out of the talks, and Khartoum’s clear disregard for the only rebel leader who did sign a 2006 peace deal in Abuja, Minni Arcua Minnawi.
Darfur’s peace process has disintegrated into a mess of conflicting personalities and interests which appears to have lost sight of the goal of achieving a sustainable peace so those in the camps can go home.
But Sudanese have a trait often confusing to outsiders. They can be sworn enemies, fighting to the death one minute. But the next day they will breakfast together, cracking jokes over foul (beans). But right now Khartoum, the rebels and the Darfuri victims could not be further apart.
First Vice President Salva Kiir has offered to help mediate and his involvement could give the talks the impetus they need.
After seven years of negotiation that has yielded little progress, maybe the international mediators should forget protocol and let the Sudanese approach the talks as only Sudanese can.