However, major challenges remain before Darfur can enjoy peace, Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan, told IRIN in an interview in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, on 31 August. Below are excerpts from the interview:
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the current humanitarian and security situation in Darfur?
ANSWER: The humanitarian situation has improved, if you compare it with what prevailed when the UN became actively involved in mid-2004. At that time mortality was high. The mortality went down below the usual critical threshold. Many people are now in camps as IDPs [internally displaced persons] and a lot of humanitarian assistance is being provided: food, water, sanitation, health assistance, nutrition.
I am worried whether that will continue, because we are very much dependent on foreign resources and the situation is quite fragile. I cannot guarantee that it will remain so until the end of this year. Of course, you should never be satisfied because it is the [humanitarian] situation - in camps. Outside the camps it is very difficult, because food security has gone down and there is not much agricultural production any more because of the war. So more and more people in Darfur become dependent on foreign assistance. That is not a healthy situation.
The security situation has changed. There is no longer war between the government and the SLM/A. There is a ceasefire that is not breached to a great extent. Secondly, the Janjawid is attacking but to a lesser extent. There is no mass slaughter of African tribes. Most of them have fled their villages already, but still there are a lot of villages [left] that are not being attacked on a mass scale. [But] you see still quite a number of people killed per month at the moment - about 100 persons - due to violence. To a great extent it is banditry, looting, crime, which goes hand-in-hand with a no-peace-no-war situation.
It is a much too high figure However [it is] 10 to 20 times as low per month as it used to be before the UN came in and the African Union [AU] sent in troops as requested by the Security Council, to Darfur. It is fragile - not secure - but better.
Q: What are the prospects for peace and what, in your view, is needed to reach a sustainable peace on the ground?
A: Peace has to be negotiated. It is a political solution to a conflict. Negotiations started in August last year, following the ceasefire agreement. These went up and down [and were] very difficult - four rounds with hardly any progress. The fifth round, which took place in June in Abuja, Nigeria, was much more successful. There was a breakthrough agreement on a DoP, which would be the guideline for the rest of the talks.
In my view, it would be possible to finish the talks before the end of the year. It might be possible to get sustainable peace before the end of 2005. But very difficult issues still have to be discussed: the sharing of power, sharing of wealth, decentralisation of powers, what to do with land ownership questions, etcetera.
It is not necessary to deal with every issue that is on the table, because it is a matter of an agreement, peace, between parties who are fighting - and not everybody is fighting. There is a group of Arab tribes and African tribes that does not participate in the war. And there is civil society. They have to be involved in all the talks and can be put on the agenda after the peace agreement. The peace agreement could be seen as the agreement to approach all the remaining problems peacefully. That means a two of three stages approach. It is possible, but difficult, because the government, now, is under a lot of pressure to be flexible in the talks and they do respond to the pressure. But, the other side, the rebel movements, are quite divided amongst themselves.
The commanders in the field do not listen very easily to their diplomatic and political leaders. That is one of the big problems: the capacity to negotiate by the other side. And the question whether there is a real political will on the side of the rebels to solve problems politically, rather than by fighting. They are betting on two horses. I think that the situation has changed due to that possibility to reach agreement on the DoP.
Q: Many SLA rebel commanders in the field in North and South Darfur are quite skeptical about peace and paint a grim picture of continued attacks and mistrust at the local level. Is there a disconnect between political aspirations for peace on the one hand and the reality of continued violence on the ground in Darfur, on the other?
A: That disconnect has always been there. The commanders do not trust their own political and diplomatic leaders. Through pressure and arguing, it is necessary to connect them with each other, which is not easy. Some of the leaders are jockeying for power. They are not in the field; they are outside. They are also being used, by a number of countries, it is very difficult to resist. They go from one to the other workshop, conference, wherever in the world. The commanders in the field see that happening and think they are not very well represented by their own leaders. And they also do have some private differences amongst themselves - some. Some people have been told: "If you fight, you get some outside support". But the same countries who made such risky statements will have to tell these people in the field: "If you fight, you won’t get any support any more from us; you have to participate in the political dialogue".
Many commanders are young, not experienced and are willing to take the risk and feel themselves much more comfortable in a fighting situation than in a political negotiation solution. They have not only a grudge, but a very legitimate claim: Darfur has been neglected, economically and socially. Culturally, also, in terms of many of the particular African tribes. And the slaughter, the ethnic cleansing which has taken place was so dramatic that it will be very difficult for leaders to change their own attitudes.
Q: In South Darfur, humanitarian organisations complain about harassment. How serious is it and how does it affect their operations and their willingness to speak out about certain human rights issues?
A: I think that this is not a very general feature. There are some forces in Darfur, who are harassing foreigners, NGOS, the UN, etcetera. They don’t like the international community taking up their issue. But that is not the mainstream. The government and the authorities in Darfur gave in to international pressure and they are willing to cooperate. There are many forces within Sudan who are having their problems with that new attitude of the government themselves. So it is not governmental harassment of NGOs and the UN; it is harassment by, let me call it, circles around military intelligence, which makes life quite difficult.
NGOs and others should understand that they are living here in an undemocratic society where there are many forces in the dark. They should understand that if they are being harassed, that it is not always the result of official policy and instructions coming from Khartoum.
Q: In his latest report on Darfur to the UN Security Council, Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, mentioned there was "little evidence of any serious efforts by the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjawid". Why is it so difficult, why is there so little progress, in this respect, when it is such an important issue?
A: They never wanted to do it, they can’t do it. They have a different understanding of [who make up] the Janjawid from the international community. And then the IDPs call everybody Janjawid. The government has indeed taken some steps to, for instance, disarm the officially mobilised persons in the Popular Defense Force.
They, through talks, also tried to control - with some success - militias which have stayed closely related to Arab tribes, in a reconciliation process. They do not control the real Janjawid, who they call outlaws, who they cannot stop, they say. Not at this particular time, because it's military is not allowed - by the international community - to take action. We do not want the military to become active, because [of] everything that happened. But they say, if we can’t use the military - our police are not strong enough. To a certain extent, it is a pretext. They are also saying "we only want to disarm them when the other party -the rebels- is being disarmed".
That is understandable, but it was not a condition, which had been accepted by the international community. The Security Council, has said, a couple of times, "you have to disarm". And that’s what we say: you have to disarm them. They didn’t do enough.
We need more AU troops to stop the Janjawid. We also need to talk, at a certain moment, with Arab tribes, who do have control over their militia, including the Janjawid, in order to address some of the concerns of these Arab tribes, because they also have concerns, which are being used as a legitimisation, by these groups, to take up arms.
It is a major problem, because the militia, the Janjawid, are ruthless. They don’t accept any international law, humanitarian law, whatsoever. They go, they kill. That is worse than any SLA or JEM rebel group, which always has a political aim. They kill, but chose their targets. They don’t go to kill innocent women, children and elderly people. They don’t go to kill civilians. That is what the Janjawid does, in order to have a terror-feeling, so that people flee. And that is, in my view, part of their ethnic cleansing policy.
Q: Aid agencies report that rape continues to occur on a large scale. What is being done about it?
A: There is the well-known problem of rape in Darfur; it is still prevailing. Many people in the government are in a state of denial, rape is taboo, they don’t want to talk about it, so they try to create the impression that it doesn’t exit. It does, it does.
It is an instrument of war, also, by the Janjawid-type of militia. It has to be addressed by the government - with the help of the AU and the UN - the government has to develop a policy. We are going very slow. They put down a new policy, which is good, in order to help any of the victims of rape. To, also, bring people - if they are known; who are rapists - to court, is not yet been accepted by all authorities throughout Darfur.
So it is a problem, quite a big problem, because it is the most vulnerable group which is affected. If there would be really acceptance and recognition of this major violation of human rights, the government could do more than it has done so far.
Q: There have been some reports about involuntary relocations and return movements? How large is the problem?
A: Returns ought to be voluntary. There is no indication whatsoever that, after the talks which we did have with the government - whereby we stopped their forced returns policy. Last year that changed. The government accepts it. They paid some money to Sheikhs to tell the people "why don’t we go home". Some people followed that. That is not enforced. People have the choice to stay and most people stayed.
Relocation is a different issue. There are camps which are unhealthy and which are totally insecure, where parts of the camps have been flooded. The government wants to have better sites. It is difficult to find sites, because of the land ownership. The government is not going to be strong vis-à-vis those landowners. They have found some other sites and they want some people to relocate to other places - I mean tens of thousands of people, part of two million IDPs. It has to take place that is also the view of the UN, but in a smooth manner and in consultation. There is not often consultation, or not often consultation until the very end, because there is a lot of resistance. In particular, because IDPs are afraid that relocations are the start of return. That is not the case, but it is difficult of course to convince them after everything that has happened.
There have been some relocations, again, recently, which took place without proper consultation with the international community. People were just loaded on trucks and brought to another place. But the other place is also not safe and not pleasant for these people because they are uprooted. There is of course the right of any government to decide where IDPs ought to be located. We do exactly the same in all western countries. We have a discussion with them in order to bring them to better consultation. That sometimes does have a success and then, after a while, they fall into the old habit. But we talk again, and again.
Q: What is the most pressing concern in Darfur right now and what should be done to address it?
A: There is no one thing more important than another: everything is dependent on each other. More security on the ground makes it possible to have better talks. Talks are necessary to get peace and security. That is necessary in order to have a better approach to all remaining problems. Humanitarian assistance has to continue, otherwise you slide backwards. I hardly dare to call one thing more important than the other: it is a comprehensive problem, a comprehensive conflict, and needs a comprehensive approach.
There is also a relation with the other conflicts in the country. Different wars: north-south, that war is over. The east, they influence each other [and] it is very complicated. Peace between north and south has indeed changed the whole climate. If that peace lasts, then it augurs well for a political solution in eastern and western Sudan.