Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
By Jim Lobe
Increased fighting and instability in Sudan's western region of Darfur are spurring renewed calls for the United States, NATO and the U.N. to urgently provide more support to the African Union's peace mission (AMIS) there and strengthen its mandate to effectively defend innocent civilians against the violence.
In a new report released here Wednesday, Refugees International (RI) charged that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who himself labeled the violence by Khartoum and Arab militias against the African residents of Darfur as "genocide", has so far failed to provide adequate diplomatic and military support to stop the killing.
"If the U.S. is serious about preventing more civilian casualties in Darfur," RI said, "it and its NATO allies, in partnership with the AU, need to move quickly to strengthen AMIS' mandate, provide more troops, greatly increase logistical and organisational assistance to AMIS, and bring pressure to bear the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed (militias) and allow AMIS to perform its job unhindered."
RI is also calling for the administration to reinstate 50 million dollars to support the AU operation next year, which a Congressional conference committee last week stripped out of the foreign aid bill. The United States is the biggest financial backer of the AU mission.
The group's plea was joined by Africa Action, a grassroots activist group, whose director, Salih Booker, accused "the U.S. and the international community (of) continuing to hide behind the AU mission, abdicating their own responsibility to take action to stop genocide".
"Unless there is a robust international intervention in Darfur, to reinforce the AU operation, the security situation will continue to worsen and the death toll will continue to rise," he added.
The appeals come amid growing outrage here over the administration's perceived failure to act more decisively against Khartoum to stop the violence, which has displaced some two million people from their homes and is estimated to have taken as many as 400,000 lives since early 2003.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, 109 Republican and Democratic lawmakers accused the administration of "engaging in a policy of appeasement" toward the National Islamic Front (NIF) government "...when the violence in Darfur grows worse and the plight of its victims more terrible".
The lawmakers cited in particular the administration's decision to permit -- and indeed encourage -- Khartoum to hire a former foreign-service officer, Robert Cabelly, to serve as a lobbyist on Sudan's behalf and to remove Khartoum from a State Department list of countries under sanctions for their complicity in human trafficking.
Critics have argued that Washington is eager to normalise ties with Sudan, an emerging oil exporter and a key potential ally in the administration's "war on terror". Last spring, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly brought the head of Khartoum's main intelligence service, a man widely accused of masterminding the attacks in Darfur, to Washington for talks.
Activists are also furious over recent remarks, which they see a deliberate effort to play down the current spate of violence in Darfur, by Jendayi Frazer, the new assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. When asked about recent attacks reportedly carried out by the government-backed Janjaweed, she insisted, "That's just a snapshot of the moment. You can't take a snapshot and get a full picture."
Rice's deputy, Robert Zoellick, arrived in Kenya Tuesday for his fourth trip to the region in seven months in a renewed effort both to calm the situation in Darfur and to shore up a peace agreement between Khartoum and southern rebels that ended a 22-year civil war earlier this year.
Shortly after the accord took formal effect in July, the rebel leader, John Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash, but fears that the peace would break down have so far proved unfounded.
Speaking of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, Zoellick said Tuesday after meeting with various parties to the conflict, "I would urge them to unify in the most inclusive fashion as possible."
"Since we've got to make sure that we're stopping the violence, returning to the cease-fire, I'm also going to be pressing them about how their military structure relates to their political structure," he said.
"The problems of Darfur will not be solved by more violence," he added. "We need to conclude a peace negotiation within the framework of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]."
Washington has offered a range of diplomatic and financial rewards to Khartoum for its adherence to the peace accord. It has made the delivery of most of them conditional on stopping the violence in Darfur and disarming the Janjaweed in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and reaching a peace agreement, currently being negotiated in Abuja, Nigeria, with rebel groups in Darfur.
As part of the effort to stop the violence, the Security Council, at Washington's urging, authorised the deployment of several thousand armed and unarmed AMIS observers to Darfur, which is roughly the size of France, in 2004. While the Council subsequently increased the authorised number to 12,500, the AU has been able so far to muster and deploy only about 6,700 units.
Moreover, under the mandate given it by the Security Council, AMIS units cannot use their arms to defend anyone but themselves, a weakness which activists claim further reduces the mission's effectiveness.
While international observers, including Zoellick himself, voiced confidence last summer that the violence was indeed winding down, the last six weeks have seen an upsurge in deadly attacks both by the Janjaweed and by rebel forces who themselves appear increasingly divided.
As noted in the RI report, humanitarian convoys have been attacked, including one in which aid workers were stripped and beaten; Janjaweed raids in North Darfur displaced nearly 7,000 people; another attack by Janjaweed forces on a refugee camp killed 29 residents; nearly 40 AMIS forces were abducted by one rebel group; and four AMIS soldiers were killed during another attack, reportedly by a second rebel group.
"People are dying and dying in large numbers," Antonio Gutterres, the U.N.'s refugee chief, said last week.
"(The) rising violence shows what can happen when there aren't enough troops on the ground, and when these troops are hamstrung by a weak mandate and logistical and organisational constraints," the RI report noted.
It added that because "the U.S. has shown little interest in sending its own or NATO troops in response to a human emergency that it has declared to constitute genocide, the U.S. has an enormous responsibility to make sure that AMIS is a success."
In addition to more equipment, including arms, training, and logistical support, Washington and its allies should ensure that AMIS' mandate is strengthened. This will require the deployment of more troops and actively preparing the deployment, in coordination with the AU, of a U.N. peacekeeping mission if an accord is reached in Abuja, according to the report.
U.S. officials have suggested that the renewed fighting represents jockeying for the best possible position before a final deal in Abuja is struck, but the violence is in danger of spiraling out of control, as Zoellick himself noted last week. "Any spark could set off a wildfire, so all of the key parties have important work to do to keep things on track."