Violence in Darfur Teeters on Brink of Chaos

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Robert Siegel talks with Alex de Waal, an advisor to the African Union Mediation group facilitating the Darfur Peace negotiations. De Waal says the proposed peace deal is significant because it asks for major conssesions from both sides. But de Waal warns that if these talks break down, violence in Darfur will grow much worse.


We're going to talk now with Alex de Waal, longtime writer and activist on Darfur who, for the past several months, has been an advisor to the African Union mediator on the Darfur peace process. He's in the Nigerian capitol of Abuja. What can you tell us about which of the parties have accepted the terms of the African Union plan, and which of the parties are still holding out?

ALEX DE WAAL: The government of Sudan accepts it and, to me, it was remarkable that they did accept it because especially the security provisions of the plan are very, very tough. The government of Sudan is required to redeploy many of its forces, and it has extremely stringent provisions for controlling the militia and disarming the Janjaweed. The rebel movements are very, very nervous. They are politically inexperienced, they are fragmented, they have their own internal problems, and throughout this mediation process they've been wanting to negotiate the government out of power, which frankly is not possible. And what's happening at the moment, the mediation is working with them on one or two key outstanding issues to try and get the rebel movement to accept.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, this plan were adopted, would it amount to a Darfur region that would be dramatically autonomous from Khartoum, from the central Sudanese government, would it have an indigenous force providing security in the region? How would you sum up, in a phrase, what it is that the plan would create?

DE WAAL: What the plan would do is it would bring members of the Darfur rebel movement into government, and it would allow Darfur essentially to be governed by its own people, representing all parties. It would provide very extensive measures for the return of displaced people, the rehabilitation of communities, the development of Darfur. But I think its strongest provisions are for security, for demilitarizing large areas, ensuring that the forces of both the government and the movement and also, even more important, the militia, do not present any menace to the civilian population. And they are all, over a period of time, brought under control and, the militia are disarmed. So I think it's a remarkably good deal. It doesn't give the movement everything they asked for, but it is also imposes some very onerous obligations on the government.

SIEGEL: While the parties have been taking part in this peace process, what has actually been happening in Darfur in terms of, well, in terms of fighting between the rebel groups and either the government or government-backed militias?

DE WAAL: What we've seen in the last few months is the general deterioration of security in Darfur, and all sides are responsible. The rebel movements have been responsible for many violations of the existing ceasefire, attacks on civilians, attacks on each other and attacks on government forces. The government has responded, it's also had some unprovoked attacks, and the militia in a number of areas have been out of control. So the situation is desperate. But however desperate it is today is nothing compared to the mayhem that is likely to unfold if this peace agreement crashes, because all sides have rearmed, all sides are ready for a major new round of fighting if the peace process comes to an end and everyone feels that the best option is to go for a military solution. So I think we have to be prepared if, in the next 24, 36 hours, if we cannot achieve an agreement, you may see some real horrors on the ground in Darfur, even worse than we've been seeing recently.

SIEGEL: Alex de Waal, thank you very much for talking with us.

DE WAAL: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: Alex de Waal spoke to us from Abuja, Nigeria, where he has been advisor to the African Union mediator on Darfur. For years, he has written about and been an activist about the situation in Darfur.

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