Darfur, Somalia peacekeepers face little peace to keep

United Nations and African Union peacekeepers headed for Sudan’s Darfur region stand little chance of success without a robust peace agreement, observers warn, and could end up becoming scapegoats for ongoing violence.Prospects could be even worse for AU peacekeepers headed into Somalia, where diplomats see little peace to keep.

Sudan this month agreed to allow hybrid UN/AU force of 20,000 peacekeepers into Darfur, replacing a weak AU mission that observers say did little to halt the violence.

The co-author of a UN resolution mandating the hybrid operation, Britain’s Ambassador to UN Emyr Jones Parry, said on Wednesday he expected to finalise the draft this week and it could come to a vote next week.

Speaking earlier to Reuters in London, Jones Parry said the hybrid force, unlike the AU mission, would, crucially, have a mandate robust enough to cover the protection of civilians.

“Secondly, there will be enough of them to cover the country and with the equipment and the flexibility to get around much more easily,” he said last week.

International experts say some 200,000 people have died and about 2.5 million been displaced in four years of fighting.

Sudan denies US accusations of genocide and says only 9,000 are dead.

Not all of Darfur’s desparate rebel groups — mainly non-Arabic tribesmen who accuse the Sudanese government of ignoring the region — signed up to a peace deal reached a year ago and aid workers say violence is increasing again and it is becoming harder to tell who is behind it.

“There has been this concentration on getting peacekeepers in but what we really need is a proper peace deal,” said former UN undersecretary general Mark Malloch Brown. “Without it, it will be very difficult.” 

Scapegoat

The 20,000 peacekeepers will be spread across an area roughly the size of France.

As with the UN military mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo — another vast, violence ridden country — analysts warn there will be areas from which they are largely absent where civilians will be largely unprotected.

“The hybrid force, if it is deployed without agreement between the parties, will not be able to stop the fighting and will become a scapegoat for the attacks on civilians,” said Francois Grignon, Africa project director for the International Crisis Group think tank.

The chances for a successful intervention in the face of opposition either from the rebels or from Khartoum — accused of backing militias who rape and murder — were low, he said.

Taking the fight to poorly trained rebels, peacekeepers were able to largely halt civil war in Sierra Leone but Darfur was a much more complex situation spread over a much larger area, Grignon said, and serious UN fighting was not an option.

An expected delay in deploying a mission could turn out to be a good thing, however. A senior UN official said on Wednesday it could take six months.

“This time can be used to obtain the necessary provisions to come back to the table for negotiations,” Grignon said. “The force is not a waste of time — far from it — but it is only one piece of the puzzle.” Parry Jones said stability could be achieved by completing the political process alongside deployment of the troops.

“People will go home, you can get some economic activity and a degree of normality that we have not seen in Darfur for a very long time,” he said. Asked if that could happen by the year-end, he said yes.

Contingency plans

Observers are much less optimistic about the prospects successful peacekeeping in Somalia, scene of a failed US and UN mission in the 1990s and where Ethiopian soldiers and a fledgling AU mission are working to support the provisional government.

Western diplomats say for now there is simply no peace for the Ugandan AU peacekeepers and troops from Burundi who will join them to keep.

“It depends on how much the African Union can stabilise things,” Jones Parry said. “What the [UN] department for peacekeeping is looking at is contingency plans.” The International Crisis Group says the international community is still too divided over what it wants for Somalia and peacekeepers backing the government are not well received.

“The population of southern Somalia is going to see more and more the African mission as an accomplice to a government not representative of their own interests,” said Grignon. “The international community has to decide what endgame it wants for Somalia.”

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