Darfur Peace Deal on Shaky Ground
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And now to Sudan, o. Our correspondent, Gwen Thompkins, is in Darfur right now as the international community continues to try to find ways to end the conflict there. In the past five years, more than 200,000 people have died; over two million have been forced from their homes. In December, the African Union and the UN launched a joint peacekeeping effort. It was promised 26,000 troops but has only 9,000. Gwen Thompkins is in the provincial capital of North Darfur, El Fasher. And Gwen, we've heard reports of instability; what are you seeing?
GWEN THOMPKINS: Robert, security has become increasingly shaky in the region. The roads are hazardous, particularly around El Fasher, you know, the capital of North Darfur. And it is much different now than it was two years ago. Two years ago we were talking about Arab nomads on horseback and camelback and they were pushing back people off their land in Darfur with air support from government helicopters. And now more than three million people are off their land and living in the camps, as you're saying. And that the focus of most of the attacks we're hearing about is on humanitarian aid workers and on the international peacekeeping presence.
So we're seeing armed bandits on stopping convoys, they're taking trucks, they're taking drivers, and they're taking everything else. And last week a Ugandan peacekeeper was murdered while on duty.
SIEGEL: Who is responsible for that kind of banditry or the carjackings and what's behind it?
THOMPKINS: Well, ironically, there have been hundreds of cases of carjackings and worse, but not one suspect has ever been caught. But the folks out here who were patrolling and the aid organizations are very aware that the rise in banditry has coincided with splits among the rebel organizations. So two years ago in El Fasher, in this area, there were three rebel groups who were operating. Now some people say that there are more than 20 groups that are operating. And what's happening is that individuals from the larger three are peeling off from these groups and they're starting their own operations. And that means that they're looking for cell phones and money and satellite phones and vehicles and all the things you need to start up your own rebel group.
SIEGEL: What you've described, Gwen, seems like an awfully big challenge to a peacekeeping force of 9,000 only. Are they up to the job?
THOMPKINS: Well, the honest answer, Robert, is that nobody knows. Nobody knows if UNAMID is up to the job. As you say, there are 9,000 peacekeepers and they're responsible for an area the size of Texas and they're very much undermanned. But you also have to remember, Robert, that even if UNAMID was up to speed, which means that even if they had 26,000 troops on the ground, those troops are not mandated to intervene in the conflict. They are here to monitor and to promote discussions about peace among the factions here in El Fasher and in the other two states of Darfur. They're simply here to observe and monitor.
SIEGEL: Well, now on to some other issues between the U.S. and Sudan not involving Darfur: the U.S. envoy yesterday suspended talks on normalizing relations with the Sudanese government. And that I gather relates to the threat that the three-year-old peace deal between Sudan's north and south could be breaking down. What are you hearing about that?
THOMPKINS: Yes, that's absolutely the concern. If the comprehensive peace agreement, which both sides signed in 2005, fails, then it does relate not only to the north and south issues, but also to Darfur, because the north-south peace agreement is being used as a template for peace with Darfur. And if there's no peace between north and south then, it would be very unlikely that anyone in Darfur is going to see any semblance of peace, and it'll be actually more than likely that they're going to see more of the same, more insecurity, more uncertainty on the ground and a diminishing hope among the people who are living in the camps for the foreseeable future.
SIEGEL: It's NPR's Gwen Thompkins talking to us from El Fasher in Darfur. Gwen, thank you very much.
THOMPKINS: Thank you, Robert.