The situation in Sudan's western Darfur region continues to deteriorate, with government military offensives, rebel infighting and severely reduced humanitarian access to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. This, despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement earlier this year.
Some top Sudan experts say the inherent flaws of the peace deal have returned Darfur to a situation similar to 2003, when the fighting in the area first broke out and government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of non-Arabs began.
Despite the May peace deal, African Union observers, U.N. relief workers and the few journalists who manage to get inside the area report continued heavy fighting in the Darfur region.
The war erupted in 2003, when rebels attacked government garrisons, claiming economic neglect and repression. Khartoum responded by bombing villages and arming local Arab militiamen who came to be known as the Janjaweed -- notorious for committing atrocities against non-Arab civilians. Experts estimate that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million driven from their homes.
According to John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, who recently visited Darfur, the current violence is reminiscent of the Sudanese government's first all out counter-offensive against non-Arab civilians believed to be sympathetic to the rebellion. Prendergast says the government is now using even more clever ways to keep rebel groups splintered and to keep attacking civilians.
"They use the group of rebels that signed the Darfur Peace Agreement as scouts to root out elements in Darfur that might not be supportive of the government -- and attack. We are in a period now where you have got genocide by remote control where you simply have to bomb water points and displace people," says Prendergast. "And you have the government of Sudan's regular army and air force joining in the fray. We are back to 2003, 2004 -- the dramatic levels of ethnic cleansing. That is where we are now."In fact, Prendergast says the Darfur Peace Agreement has made matters dramatically worse in the region. But how?
Human rights activist Adam Shapiro has written a book and produced a documentary film based on interviews he conducted with Darfur's war victims. He says as soon as the deal was signed by Khartoum and the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, it was clear it had little support among those most affected by the conflict. He says that is because the Sudan Liberation Movement is just one of several rebel groups in Darfur, representing the interests of only one ethnic group -- the Fur -- out of some 80-to-100 in the region.
"When the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed a few months ago, we saw an immediate -- almost immediate reaction -- from people in the refugee camps against the Darfur Peace Agreement. And you would wonder why? Here are people who have been out of their homes for years, people who have suffered the most unreal kind of trauma," says Shapiro. "And yet, at first, what was hailed as sort of a breakthrough, we saw immediate protest against it. And I think it should have been a lesson to everyone, saying that we need to start consulting and looking at what local people want, what they need, what will bring peace as far as they are concerned."
And Shapiro says the D.P.A., as the agreement is called, has another major flaw; that is, rewarding the perpetrators of violence. "The D.P.A. allows for the militias who are currently carrying out the violence -- who are currently carrying out rape, burning villages, attacking civilians as they flee -- to be integrated and to keep their arms into the police and military of the government of Sudan," says Shapiro.
Compensating War Victims
Another key issue has to do with compensating war victims, many of them poor civilians who have lost everything. Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College [in the U.S. state of Massachusetts] says that issue was badly handled in the peace deal.
"The Darfur Peace Agreement provides for $30-million in compensation for some four million people, who are now conflict-affected. That works out to less than eight dollars a person for people who have to start their lives anew. And they have lost their homes, their food reserves, seed reserves, agricultural implements, their cattle," says Reeves. "To ask these people to accept eight dollars a person as compensation was viewed with tremendous anger in the camps and this is one of the reasons that the Darfur Peace Agreement had no chance of succeeding with the people of Darfur."
If analysts agree that the peace deal cannot, as currently written, bring any peace, what will? John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group says the only way out of the stalemate is to make the Sudanese government pay heavily for conducting a bloody counter-insurgency plan directed primarily at Darfur's civilian population. And he says there are several ways to do that.
"The first one is we need to impose sanctions on the ruling party companies that have been created over the last few years in response to the massive oil bonanza that the country has experienced," says Prendergast. "And we have got to put a spotlight on the senior leadership of the ruling party in this regime. And they can be influenced if we start to freeze their assets."
Prendergast also says the international community must aggressively pursue the case against genocide suspects at the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation of the Darfur war last year.
A New Peace Agrement?
There has been some acknowledgment among senior officials involved in resolving the conflict that the Darfur Peace Agreement needs to be rewritten. The United States Special Envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, says there was wide agreement on that issue during high-level negotiations on the crisis earlier this month in Ethiopia.
"We should start with the D.P.A. and add protocols onto it on the remaining issues that have not been resolved -- such as, compensation for individual people who are in the camps whose livestock has been looted, whose homes have been destroyed, whose farm equipment is gone, who could not go back to their villages without some kind of package of support," says Natsios.
But getting there will mean many more meetings with the other rebel groups in Darfur that never signed the deal. U.S. special envoy Natsios says he is committed to holding talks with all Darfur combatants to rework the agreement.
In the meantime, the killing continues and is spreading across Sudan's border into eastern Chad and Central African Republic.