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Darfur Faces Peacekeeping Dilemma

This week, Sudan again refused to allow United Nations forces to take over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur now being carried out by the African Union. More than 200,000 people have died in fighting in Darfur between government troops and rebels since 2003 and an estimated 2.5 million have been displaced in what the United States has called a "genocide."

A peace deal signed in May by the Sudanese government and a Darfur rebel group to end hostilities and grant the region greater political participation and national wealth soon faltered when other rebel groups rejected it, saying it did not go far enough.

An Untenable Situation

Fighting resumed and the African Union mission monitoring the accord has been unable to cope with the situation. While rejecting any handover of peacekeeping in the region to western troops, Khartoum has accepted a compromise that allows U.N. expertise and logistical support in Darfur.

But Middle East Institute scholar Mohammed Khalil says this falls short of what is needed to stem the crisis. "What I think will resolve the problem is sending additional forces to the African mission or new forces under the umbrella of the United Nations because the present situation is very untenable and something needs to be done. And as a mater of fact, even some members of the government say that the situation is so bad that intervention is necessary."

Bolstering the African Union

But some observers argue that there is no need for a new peacekeeping force. Using African Union, or A.U., troops is the fastest way to deal with the crisis, says William Church at the London-based Great Lakes Center for Strategic Studies.

"Reinforce the A.U. force already on the ground. They already have a mandate, but the mandate needs to be strengthened. And there are certain issues with their support that need to be reinforced. They need more mobility, more funding, better equipment and things like that," says Church.

Under their mandate, African Union forces can only monitor the situation. They have been unable to protect civilians from the government-backed Janjaweed militia that is accused of committing atrocities in Darfur. Khartoum has denied arming the militia, and has recently announced plans to disarm it.

Anne-Louise Colgan, Acting Co-Executive Director of the Washington-based advocacy group, Africa Action, says the African Union force is no longer able to deal with the situation. "It has done an important job on the ground, but it is insufficient to the task that it is faced with. The African Union force that's on the ground is under-resourced and cannot meet the needs of the people in terms of providing security."

Colgan adds that the African Union has requested additional U.N. financial and logistical support. And that, notes Susan Rice, a Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution here in Washington, is central to the debate over U.N. involvement in Darfur.

"The African Union understands that with 7,000 troops on the ground, it can't effectively protect civilians in an area the size of France. The African Union understands that without an assured funding stream as guaranteed through U.N. assessments, that without external robust logistical support and troop reinforcements and a Chapter Seven mandate [Under the U.N. Charter, Chapter Seven grants the Security Council power to carry out peacekeeping missions], none of which they have under the African Union, it can't do everything it intended to do. That said, the African Union has done a very commendable job despite very difficult circumstances,"says Rice.

Some experts argue that the African Union would have done a better job had it received more international support.

The Need for Impartiality

But Chester Crocker of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service maintains that the A.U. mission did not get the kind of support a United Nations operation would have received because of the way it was established.

"That's partly because the terms and conditions for the A.U. force operating there have pretty much been negotiated with- - if not defined by - - the government in Khartoum. And that's not satisfactory. It can't be a one-sided thing. You need to have a force in there that, in fact, has an element of actual and perceived objectivity, if not impartiality, in order to get the warfare and the violence to stop and to permit a window for peacemaking," says Crocker.

What's needed, argues Crocker, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is a credible force that can keep the peace and protect civilians.

Darfur advocates say that while African countries should have a voice in resolving the continent's problems, protecting civilians in Darfur should also be a global responsibility.

But some analysts say there would be little difference between a U.N. force and an A.U. force. William Church of the Great Lakes Center for Strategic Studies says sending United Nations troops to Darfur is unnecessary when African Union peacekeepers are already on the ground. "If the U.N. were to fully support the A.U., give them what they're missing, and if it's an efficient force in equipment and some structural issues, if the U.N. were to do that, it would have the same result. And then, we are months away- - probably six months away- - from any effective U.N. force. The U.N. does not have the necessary availability of peacekeepers," says Church.

Even if it did, some experts say any international force in Darfur would be only a temporary fix to a problem that needs a political solution.

Sending U.N. troops to the region, some experts say, would not mean the end of the crisis, but the start of a new effort to get the Darfur peace process back on track.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.