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Darfur Challenges Remain After Pact By Maggie Farley
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Jun 11, 2006 - 1:01:00 AM

Darfur Challenges Remain After Pact

Los Angeles Times
By Maggie Farley
June 09, 2006
We will declare jihad against it

EL FASHER, Sudan - The wali of northern Sudan, clad in a white turban and leopard slippers, faced 15 U.N. Security Council diplomats Friday, and told them the opposite of what they had hoped to hear.

A newly signed peace agreement for Darfur is actually causing new conflicts, said Osman Kibir, the wali , or traditional governor of the region. He and tribal leaders warned that if a U.N. peacekeeping force arrived there, it might be met with armed resistance. The chief of the Barty tribe, Mowadh Jalaladin, said deploying United Nations troops to protect civilians from largely Arab militias could incite a holy war. 'We will declare jihad against it,' he said.

The Security Council members are on a mission to Sudan to press the government to disarm militias, help protect civilians and back the May 5 peace pact. In El Fasher, they met with Darfur tribal leaders, government officials, aid workers and people from five nearby camps that hold hundreds of thousands displaced by fighting.

They heard stories from women who were raped by attackers while they ventured from camp to collect firewood. They listened to two human rights lawyers who had been detained several times for speaking publicly about conditions the government wanted to hide, and from aid workers pleading for better protection. 'The final message is: Please, if we have a U.N. force, make it strong enough. Give it a robust peacekeeping mandate so that it is able to protect civilians,' said Cate Steains, the acting head of the U.N. humanitarian operation in Darfur.

In Zam Zam, a village-like encampment for about 35,000 people who fled militia attacks in 2003, women tended to children and collected trash from the huts, built of bundled sticks, mud bricks and plastic sheeting. They haven't seen any U.N. staffers for three weeks because security forces and local police have blocked their access to the camp.

'The people here want to go home, but they are still afraid to leave,' said Gina Sanchez Bodas, the camp coordinator for Spanish Red Cross. 'But it is not good to stay here either. The World Food Program just cut their rations in half for two months because there wasn't enough money.' Militia fighting, even among factions that claim to be protecting the civilians, has increased lately. The violence also has spread into neighboring Chad.

The Security Council has proposed sending a large U.N. peacekeeping force to take over from 7,000 African Union troops and monitors. The African Union troops are too few and too ill-equipped to adequately protect people spread across a region the size of Texas. Some of the soldiers haven't been paid for two months and have stopped patrolling the camps. The Khartoum government has refused to accept the proposed 20,000-member U.N. force. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir told the Security Council on Tuesday that an international force would raise the specter of colonialism and occupation. But he said he would allow an assessment team to go to Darfur to prepare for a possible deployment. The Security Council regarded that as a positive first step. 'We never thought we would get the approval at the present time, but I think we have prepared the ground,' said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.

The U.N. ambassadors scrapped plans to visit nearby camps for displaced people because of security concerns. In May, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, was attacked in a camp and an interpreter was hacked to death by a frenzied crowd.

The May 5 accord has increased conflict in Darfur and sent more people fleeing to camps, U.N. officials said. The agreement has even heightened tensions within the camps, as villagers suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of the political fence.

The Sudan Liberation Army, which has been fighting the government since 2003, split into two factions. The leader of the largest rebel group, Minni Arcua Minnawi, signed the peace accord under great pressure from U.S. and African Union officials. But the other leader, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, refused, saying the agreement did not go far enough to guarantee the disarmament of the militias or power-sharing with the government.

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