Monday, October 01, 2007

Who's The Problem In Darfur?

Yesterday, hundreds of Darfur rebels poured out of the desert and assaulted a camp of peacekeeping troops from the African Union. When the attack was over, 10 peacekeepers were dead, dozens more were missing, possibly kidnapped, and lots of supplies, including heavy weapons, had been stolen. According to the New York Times:

Relief officials said that as those groups splintered, their new factions needed matériel, and that the attack on the peacekeepers might have been intended to seize quality weapons. “It’s indicative of the complete insecurity,” said Alun McDonald, a spokesman for the Oxfam aid organization in Sudan. “These groups are attacking anybody and everybody with total impunity.”

He added that armed groups were “increasingly targeting aid workers to steal their vehicles, radios and logistical stuff.” He said the attack on the peacekeepers “sounds quite similar to that, just on a much larger scale.”

Mr. McDonald's explanation is, however, unsatisfactory. Attacking the peacekeepers is very likely to result in the withdrawal of the AU force, and perhaps even a delay or cancellation of the UN-AU hybrid force that has been authorized to replace the existing AU force. Already Senegal, one of the largest contributors to the AU force, has announced that it is considering withdrawing its troops from the force. So, unless the rebels wanted the peacekeepers out of Darfur, attacking them doesn't make sense.

But it's altogether likely that the rebels do, in fact, want the peacekeepers out. The rebels are those Darfuri who have decided to take up arms against the Sudanese government in hopes of achieving greater political autonomy and protection, if not independence, for Darfur. The presence of peacekeepers, while perhaps sufficing to minimize or prevent the attacks against civilians that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more, will not serve to advance the larger political goal. If anything, the peacekeepers will serve to entrench the status quo by freezing the battlelines and political demands in place. They certainly will make it more difficult for the rebels to attain their larger political goals.

Of course, if the UN was capable of disregarding concerns for sovereign equality and actually taking sides in ethnic conflicts like this, the rebels might have a little more faith that their concerns would be addressed by the international community. But history has likely given them little confidence that the presence of UN peacekeepers will do anything but perpetuate the existing situation, and might, in a worst case, prevent the Darfuri from defending themselves against Sudanese predation.

This attack will likely go a long way to convincing states that sending soldiers to Darfur is not realyl in their national interest. And while that might benefit the rebels, it will do little to ease the suffering of the average Darfuri. Whatever forces end up on the ground in Darfur must be capable of defending themselves against government or rebel forces, and must not be unwilling to use force to enforce the peace.



6 comments:

Anonymous said...

its good to see that you are finally seeing the Darfur conflict for what it is, a conflict between a rebels and the government over land and not the "genocidal" orientated way you have explained in the past. The whole Arab-African dichotomy is out of tune with reality.

Seth Weinberger said...

I don't believe anything in the original posts challenges the genocidal nature of the conflict in Darfur. The fact that there are rebel groups that fight the Sudanese government, or even the peacekeepers, neither explains nor excuses the uprooting of millions of Darfuri and the killing of hundreds of thousands.

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