Darfur: Major test case for AU

The African Union (AU) last week extended its peacekeeping campaign in Darfur, southern Sudan, by a further six months long after matters on the ground indicated that the force, though universally accepted as the only intervention capable of bringing sanity to Darfur without complicating the conflict, had failed to achieve its mandate due to funding and material limitations. The extension of the Darfur mission is a gesture that shows the commitment among African states to resolve conflicts on the continent, which is commendable, but this will not go very far without the solid financial and material support of the United Nations and other organisations to beef up the AU mission and ensure that it brings peace. Conflicts in resource-rich countries usually attract expeditious interventions by not-so-sincere Western powers that often end up harming both the victim and the offender, while pilfering resources, thus the rejection of a United States-led force in the Darfur crisis. However, failure to mobilise resources in time and co-ordinate the peace talks currently being arranged by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will only strengthen the case for intervention by a UN force that the US and other European countries have been lobbying for. Atrocities continue in Darfur, and the refugee crisis is worsening, militias are reported to be following refugees back into Darfur after driving them out of refugee camps in Chad. The situation is as though there was no peacekeeping force at all, and for those suffering in Darfur, it does not matter who brings the peace and at what cost. The Sudanese government should escalate its efforts and engage in genuine peace talks with the rebels in the west to avoid what in six months could be a tragedy for the tormented civilians of Darfur, Sudan and Africa as a whole. An AU failure in Darfur would mean an endorsement of the intervention of half-hearted philanthropists who have brought Iraq and Afghanistan to ruin under the pretext of humanitarian interventions. For the people of Darfur, failure by the AU will only mean more suffering, while the status of the AU as the prime force in the resolution of African conflicts would be seriously challenged. It is in this context that the AU mission in Darfur deserves the backing of all African states, and that all governments follow up on their commitments to contribute towards effecting peace in the region. Threats by the Sudanese government to pull out of the AU if the AU had decided to surrender its mandate to the UN in its Peace and Security Council meeting last week should be taken seriously, as this will spell the beginning of Sudan’s isolation and strengthen the case for a UN intervention. Western countries last week welcomed the AU’s call for an immediate cessation to the fighting in Darfur and an elaborate plan to impose targeted sanctions on rebel leaders and the Sudanese government perpetrating atrocities in Darfur. While Sudan is still celebrating its victory in keeping a UN force from its doorstep, it should be noted that the respite is only for six months, and a failure to end the hostilities will eventually end in the intervention of the UN. Humanitarian groups last week lamented the AU decision to keep UN peacekeepers out, as the levels of security for civilians in the regions keep going down amid AU peacekeepers’ failure to end the mass killings and looting by rebels and government-sponsored Janjaweed militias. The humanitarian groups indicated that with the current situation in Darfur, thousands more civilians would die in the six months before a UN force was deployed to secure peace in the region. Support has been pledged for the AU mission in Darfur, with the European Union committing US$60 million and the US$120 million to the operations of the mission until September, and this should be effectively used towards the settlement of the conflict in Darfur. The AU last week set April 30 2006 as the deadline for the conclusion of a peace agreement in Darfur. The failure of the AU force in Darfur would be a failure for the whole of Africa as far a conflict resolution and peacekeeping is concerned.

March 2006
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