Next week the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) will hold a summit of the world’s Muslim leaders in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. At the meeting, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has offered to mediate talks between the leaders of Sudan and Chad, Presidents Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Idriss Deby. Vice President for Media and Conflict Resolution David Smock at the US Institute for Peace says he hopes that Islamic involvement will be able to help move resolution efforts in a new direction.
“They have an opportunity that they haven’t seized upon previously to focus on not only the relationship between Sudan and Chad and the return of refugees, but also the situation in Darfur more generally. I think it’s an issue that I think should be high on the agenda of the Islamic world, and hopefully they are going to be paying more attention to it in the future,” he said.
Each side has accused the other side of backing rebel groups inside the other’s borders, and both governments have played what are seen as unfortunate roles in forcing thousands of displaced villagers to seek refuge outside their country’s borders. Uprooted villagers from Sudan’s western Darfur region have sought refuge in camps in neighboring Chad. And as recently as last month, thousands of Chadians fled rebel attacks on their capital of N’djamena and poured across Chad’s southern border into Cameroon. Smock says the best way to limit the damaging impact of government attacks against Sudanese rebels and a burgeoning Darfur refugee crisis in eastern Chad is through the recent deployment of an international force along the two countries’ common border.
”The deployment of the European Union (EU) force on the border between Chad and Sudan should be helpful and international pressure brought generally on both governments to behave more responsibly in relationship to each other. They have been supporting rebel contingents attacking the other country. And it’s an unfortunate complication of internal disputes in both of those countries to have their neighbors exacerbating the conflicts.”
In Darfur, the United Nations is giving top priority to ending peacefully a rebel standoff in the mountainous Jebel Moun area, where 20-thousand residents may be lacking sufficient supplies. The siege has resulted in several thousand more displaced West Darfur victims fleeing to Chad. The US Institute for Peace’s David Smock says the best way to break the siege of Jebel Moun would be to focus greater world attention on solving the crisis in Darfur.
“We need more international attention focused on the heightened conflict in Darfur. I mean, it’s returned to a very unstable situation. And with government offensives and the janjaweed getting involved in the rebel movement exerting themselves, unfortunately this is not something that the hybrid UN – AU (African Union) force can really play a constructive role. It’s beyond their capacity to intervene. It’s just terribly unfortunate. Just adds to the misery of the Darfurians that they’ve experienced over the last several years,” he points out.
In a recent wave of diplomatic activity, China has offered to help western countries find a peaceful solution to the Darfur crisis. International suspicions persist about an ulterior motive in China’s new approach to winning favor over Darfur in the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But Smock says that China policy has long exhibited “a reluctance to intervene in other countries’ affairs” and he says he welcomes Beijing’s assertion of influence on settling the Darfur crisis as a positive development.