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Darfur – when peace talks cause conflict

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It’s a well-established fact that peace talks can spark fighting. I remember before every round of doomed peace talks on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a tactical military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement determining what areas their forces controlled. But the violence in the past week in Darfur’s camps for 2 million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different. It would be easy to blame the mediation who convinced more than 400 members of civil society to join a Qatari-based peace process which the two main rebel groups are not present at. Some Darfuris after seven years festering in miserable 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 housing 100,000 people and the camps surrounding Zalingei in West Darfur sparking the fighting which claimed at least eight lives, injured dozens and drove thousands to flee the camps they had sought refuge in years ago. But to only blame the mediation would ignore the problems they inherited which almost amount to a mission impossible. Rebel commanders have been splitting to form dozens of factions for years 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 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 and Darfur has descended into a chaotic, anarchic, violent mess 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 Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur’s hold over the IDP camps. He began to help smaller factions hoping to cut of the head of Nur’s support, the diplomats said. The camp violence is just one manifestation of that policy. Nur’s stronghold Jabel Marra descending into intra-rebel fighting killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands more to flee this year was another. Talks in Qatar are now solely focused on a new rebel coalition of tiny factions with few forces on the ground albeit with an impressive ex-U.N. Economic Commission for Africa staffer Al-Tijani Sese brought in to lead them this year. Sese, from a leading Fur tribe family, 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 mediation’s idea that Sese would help bring the camps on side was based on good faith, the reality alienated the two main Darfur rebel groups and divided the camps. Further impacting the mediation’s efforts is the government’s continued military action which prompted JEM rebels 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, who has yet to be reappointed to his post as presidential assistant since elections in April. Darfur’s peace process has disintegrated into a bewildering mess of conflicting personalities and interests which appears to have sight of the goal of achieving a sustainable peace so those in the camps can go home. 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). It’s all about interaction. But right now Khartoum, the rebels and the Darfuri victims could not be further apart. After seven years of negotiation yielded little progress, maybe the mediation should forget protocol and pomp and allow the Sudanese to approach the talks as only Sudanese can.

darfuridpIt’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.

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