Friday, May 05, 2006

Hope For Darfur

The Sudanese government and the largest Darfur rebel group have signed a peace deal. Brokered by the United States, the deal calls for "a cease-fire; disarmament of militias linked to the government and accused of some of the war's worst atrocities; the integration of thousands of rebel fighters into Sudan's armed forces; and a protection force for civilians." Furthermore, "political provisions included guarantees that rebel factions will have the majority in Darfur's three state legislatures, but the rebels did not get the national vice presidency they had sought."

This last clause is problematic, as two important, but smaller and less powerful than the one that signed the deal, rebel groups refused to sign, insisting that Sudanese vice presidency be given to someone from Darfur. This could cause problems similar to those in the Palestinian territories, where the inability to disarm and control all armed factions leads to a slow undermining of the conditions for peace. Also, there isn't a great track record here, as neither the Sudanese government nor the rebel factions made much of an effort to abide by a 2004 cease-fire agreement.

However, this deal is still a critical step. It seems likely that a stronger UN peacekeeping force will be deployed to replace the ineffective African Union troops already on the ground in Darfur. If Sudan allows that to happen, and if the deal can be respected by both sides, it represents an opportunity to address the political concerns of Darfur, as well as provide protection for the region from Khartoum. And if it doesn't work, it will be that much more difficult for Russia and China to block UN action. And, if all else fails, the US will now be able to claim it has tried all other options and is left with no choice but to intervene. Let's hope for the people of Darfur it doesn't come to that.

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