U.N., African Union Unite to End Darfur Violence

France, Denmark and Indonesia on Wednesday pledged to contribute to a United Nations mission to Darfur, Sudan, in an attempt to end the conflict between pro-government militias and rebels that has killed more than 200,000 people in the last four years.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of 26,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians in western Sudan on Tuesday. If fully deployed, the hybrid force of U.N. and African Union police and military units would be the world's largest peacekeeping force, draw upon a maximum of 19,555 military troops and 6,432, civilian police.

The resolution states that the U.N. will have the force's headquarters in place by October. U.N. peacekeepers are scheduled to take command of the region from a 7,000-member African Union force by Dec. 31, but the bulk of the units are not expected to arrive until 2008. The ultimate size of the force will depend upon the willingness of U.N. members to contribute troops, police and equipment, with most of the force coming from Africa.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to member states to contribute troops quickly in order to protect civilians in Darfur.

"We must dedicate ourselves fully to deploying our mission, which will make a clear and positive difference in the lives of the people of Darfur," he said. "They have a right to expect nothing less."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country would send soldiers to participate in the chain of command, as well as reconstruction and humanitarian efforts. He did not say how many troops France would send.

Denmark's Defense Minister Soeren Gade said his country would send help.

"Beside the fact that there is a need for quite a lot of soldiers, there is a need for logistical staff, people in the headquarters, ships that can ferry equipment on long distances, planes that can move equipment and personnel," he said.

Desra Percaya, spokesman for Indonesia's foreign ministry, said the country was willing to contribute troops but was waiting for details on how many non-African troops are needed.

Last year, Sudan rejected a U.N. force and only agreed to accept the hybrid force spelled out in Tuesday's resolution after months of negotiations.

The conflict in Darfur began in February 2003 when ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they considered decades of discrimination by the Arab-run government. In turn, Sudan's government is accused of arming nomadic, Arab militias to fight the rebels — a charge the government denies. During the hostilities, the U.N. says more than 250,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

Approval of the hybrid force for Darfur marks a major turnround for Sudan President Omar al Bashir's government. It long resisted having international forces in western Sudan. Under pressure from Sudan and China — a key Sudanese business partner — Tuesday's resolution stripped out any threats of punishment if Khartoum does not cooperate.

Sudan's envoy, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said the resolution is more limited than many people think and addressed his country's concerns. "No blank check is there," he said.

But the U.S., Britain and other nations have said they will impose sanctions if Sudan prevents the peacekeepers from carrying out their mission in Darfur.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called on Sudan to cooperate in the quest for peace. "Just as all eyes are on the Council, so, too, are all eyes on Sudan, and we look to the government to do the right thing and pursue the path to peace," Khalilzad said. The U.S. has labeled the violence against ethnic Africans genocide.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said the resolution gives the international peacekeepers the clear authority to protect civilians — without getting Sudan's approval to act, but he rejected any comparison to Iraq.

"Let's be clear. This is not the use of force to try to enforce an agreement. It is the use of force to actually protect civilians. And if you, my friend, had been to the camps and seen the position of the people there, you wouldn't wonder why we're putting in police and troops. We are putting them there to protect civilians," Parry said.

The resolution has one section under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with threats to peace and security and can be militarily enforced.

It authorizes UNAMID to use force to protect and ensure freedom of movement for its own personnel and humanitarian workers, prevent armed attacks and protect civilians in order to support implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Scarce Resources, Ethnic Strife Fuel Darfur Conflict

An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region i i

hide captionAn African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region of Darfur, Sudan, June 2006. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in August to replace the A.U. forces with more than 20,000 U.N. troops, but Sudan's president opposes the move.

Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images
An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region

An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region of Darfur, Sudan, June 2006. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in August to replace the A.U. forces with more than 20,000 U.N. troops, but Sudan's president opposes the move.

Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images
Darfur map i i

hide captionDarfur, a region in western Sudan, borders the Central African Republic, Libya and Chad. Darfur is the site of an ongoing, Muslim-on-Muslim conflict between black African tribes and Arab-speaking populations. Many of those displaced by the fighting have fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad.

Melody Kokoszka, NPR
Darfur map

Darfur, a region in western Sudan, borders the Central African Republic, Libya and Chad. Darfur is the site of an ongoing, Muslim-on-Muslim conflict between black African tribes and Arab-speaking populations. Many of those displaced by the fighting have fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad.

Melody Kokoszka, NPR

About the Author

Before joining NPR's foreign desk as an editor in 2001, Didrik Schanche was a newspaper and wire service reporter. From 1987-94, she was The Associated Press' East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army

hide captionRebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army play cards in a house in a deserted village in northern Darfur, May 2006. This branch of the SLA refused to sign the peace deal concluded in May between Sudan's government and another SLA faction, led by Minni Minnawi.

Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images

The deadly conflict in Darfur has deep roots in a vast, arid and long-neglected region in Sudan's west, where battles over water and grazing rights stretch back generations.

The demographic shift that plays out across Africa's north helps feed the conflict. Darfur is on the leading edge of the continental demographic divide, where sub-Saharan black Africa melds with Arabic-speaking populations. And in this Muslim-on-Muslim battle in Darfur, it is the civilians who suffer.

The current hostilities erupted in early 2003, when two rebel groups - The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - attacked government targets, claiming that the predominantly African region was being neglected by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. The rebel movements - from different ideological backgrounds - cooperated in their fight against the government.

But during peace talks in 2006, the rebels went their separate ways. The SLA, led by Minni Minnawi, signed the accord, while the JEM, led by Mohammed Tugod, did not. Since then, the insurgents have splintered and there are now more than 20 offshoots of these groups.

Long-Standing Ethnic Tensions

Tension between the region's African farmers and Arab pastoralists has existed for decades. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, described the roots of the conflict.

"To outsiders, the conflict is seen as tribal warfare. At its roots, though, it is a struggle over controlling an environment that can no longer support all the people who must live on it," she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

A sense of inequity was exacerbated by years of official Sudanese government support for groups in the region who identified themselves as Arab. An administrative reorganization in 1994 divided the vast territory into three regions and put Arabs in positions of power.

The black African tribes - the Fur, Zagawa and Masalit - found themselves increasingly marginalized. People in Darfur refer to themselves as "black," and many Darfuris say that the dispute with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum is ethnically based. Droughts and diminishing resources ignited regular communal hostilities, which came to a head with the rebel assaults in 2003.

A Scorched-Earth Response

The government responded with a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels and the tribes they came from. The Sudanese government used aerial bombardments, while government-backed Janjaweed militia attacked civilians on the ground. Janjaweed come from Arabic-speaking pastoralist communities. They herd camels in northern Darfur and cattle in southern Darfur.

The attacks razed villages, resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands - most as the result of disease and starvation - and displaced millions of people, many of whom fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad. The Janjaweed have been accused of the systematic rape and ethnic cleansing of Darfur's black residents. Sudan's government denies it supports the militia.

Shaky Peace Deals Fail to Stem Violence

The African Union brokered a shaky truce between the government and the rebels in May 2004 and sent a small force of military observers to monitor the pact. But violence continued. Citing a "consistent and widespread" pattern of atrocities, the United States in September 2004 accused Sudan's government and Janjaweed militia of genocide.

The African Union troops were bulked up to a force that eventually numbered 7,000. But the soldiers were badly outnumbered and outgunned. Funding problems mean they often went weeks without pay. Their weak mandate, combined with poor resources and insufficient numbers to patrol a region the size of France, left them incapable of halting abuses.

Fighting escalated as rebel factions splintered and new insurgent groups were formed. Civilians continued to suffer attacks from insurgents, government forces and Janjaweed militia.

In June 2007, Sudan bowed to international pressure and agreed to a detailed plan by the African Union and the United Nations to send a joint peacekeeping force of nearly 26,000 troops to Darfur. But by late 2007, that force still had not been assembled — due in part to the logistics involved in assembling such a force and also, say some, on bureaucratic roadblocks thrown up by Sudan's government.

In September, 10 African Union troops were killed when rebels overran their camp.

In a renewed effort to forge peace in Darfur, Libya invited all parties to the conflict to African Union-United Nations mediated talks in Sirte, Libya, at the end of October. But those talks foundered over the absence of the key rebel leaders, the SLA's Abdul Wahid Mohammed el-Nur and the Islamic Justice and Equality Movement's Khalil Ibrahim.

Aid Efforts Snarled by Ongoing Violence

Throughout this conflict, international aid groups have worked to care for Darfur's victims. But continuing attacks have made their jobs increasingly difficult. More than a dozen employees of international aid organizations have been killed in the violence. The lack of security has forced many relief organizations out of the region altogether, and limited access for those that have stayed.

One of the most difficult things about providing assistance to the people of Darfur is just getting there. Darfur sits in the middle of the continent, just below the Sahara Desert. Ships carrying food aid for Darfur are docking at ports on three sides of the continent, in Cameroon on the Atlantic, in Libya on the Mediterranean and to the east at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Once the food gets to Africa, it has to be trucked over land in all-terrain vehicles to refugee camps in Chad and Sudan. During the rainy seasons, the land becomes impassable.

The U.S. government remains one of the biggest donors of humanitarian aid to Darfur.

Bush Administration's Response to Darfur

The Bush White House became the first and only government to label the conflict in Darfur as genocide in September 2006 when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We concluded — I concluded — that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and Janjaweed bear responsibility and genocide may still be occurring," he said.

President Bush named former USAID administrator Andrew Natsios as special envoy to Sudan, in an effort to get greater weight behind an international peacekeeping force and maintain momentum on peace mediation efforts. However, the situation is little changed. Civilians continue to be killed and uprooted in violence that has only escalated with time. And those committing the violence remain largely unpunished.

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