Darfur: AU stays put to avoid US troops

This came after Sudan and other states vigorously lobbied against the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force, widely seen as a proxy for western military adventurism in the region. The AU Peace and Security Council at its convention last week gave precedence to the mantra ‘African solutions for African problems’ with its decision that the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur should continue with its mission and lobby for more funding, equipment and manpower to protect civilians rather than handover its mandate to US-led UN troops. Calls for the replacement of AU peacekeepers with a UN force came after the apparent failure of the 7,000 strong AU force to stop genocide perpetrated by Khartoum-backed Arab militias in Sudan’s troubled western region due to limited resources and lack of funding. The AU mission is currently receiving material support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The prospect of a US-led UN intervention in the troubled western Darfur region was threatening to complicate the conflict, with anti-US militants and members of the al-Qaida network reported to have started entering Sudan in anticipation of engagement with western troops, most of whom are currently fighting al-Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan. The AU had agreed in February to hand over its peacekeeping mission in Darfur to the UN after it emerged that the organization was failing to reign in rebels and Arab militias and protect civilians, but the Sudanese government lobbied heavily against a US-led intervention, taking a leaf from the events unfolding in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Sudan would have to be crazy to allow the US or its Security Council minions to enter their country without a fight. There’s no faster way to surrender one’s sovereignty, independence and moral-legitimacy’ Why would anyone expect anything different?” quizzed Mike Whitney, a Washington based writer on security affairs, “Has the US made any effort to provide security for the Afghani people beyond the capital of Kabul, or have they been left to the mercy of warlords and drug-kingpins? How about Iraq? How’s the U.S. security-program progressing in Babylon?” The AU, though ill-funded and currently firing NATO guns in its Darfur peacekeeping campaign, in many ways stands out as a viable and politically correct alternative in the international effort to stop genocide in Darfur and bring peace to the region compared to the UN, whose mandate has been compromised by perceived US interests in the Horn of Africa region. Observers described the US lobby for a UN intervention in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people are reported to have died in the fighting, which has displaced four million civilians, as an effort to take over the country’s resources under the pretext of a humanitarian intervention. Like Iraq, it is believed that calls for a US-led military intervention in Darfur are driven more by the a desire by the US to lay its hands on Sudan’s abundant oil and natural gas deposits. Following the political stalemate that resulted from the insistence of the US government for the AU to put arms down and pave way for a UN force, Sudan, with the backing of China and other Arab countries protested against the move and threatened to pull out of the AU if AU removed its troops from Darfur. The move was driven by fears that the intervention of UN troops led by the US, currently not the flavour of the month, would pave way of for the reduction of Sudan into another Iraq. Sudan, currently serving as a strategic ally of the US in its War on Terror rejected the replacement of AU troops, saying the deployment of UN troops to intervene in the Darfur crisis would throw the country deeper into conflict. AU will continue its mission in Darfur for the next six months, and if the mass killings and looting in the region continue to fly in the face of the ill-equipped peacekeeping force, the deployment of UN forces may have to be reconsidered. “The African Union has the lead in responding to the Darfur crisis; we have tried to help and will continue to try to help, but I think Africans believe this is a conflict best resolved on the ground by Africans.” US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice was quoted as saying last year. The UN officials have expressed concern over the Darfur situation, describing it as difficult and problematic, and the UN has made a proposal to the AU to step down and pave way for a bigger force. Efforts to stop the killing of innocent villagers in Darfur and forge a peace accord between the Khartoum government and rebels in the province have failed to yield results in the past three years, and the crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than 2 million people. The AU has a fresh mandate, and if it manages to secure enough material support and funding, chances are that it could mount a larger force and reduce the impact of the conflict on civilians while AU diplomats try to bring the rebels and government forces to the negotiating table.

March 2006
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