Darfur: rebel alliance splits

A front-page story in today’s New York Times paints an even more desperate picture of the deteriorating situation in Darfur than usual. Lydia Polgreen reports from Tina, a village that was overrun April 19 and the residents forced to flee to the overstretched and over-crowded refugee camp at Tawila. Only this time the armed horsemen who swept through, burning, looting, shooting and raping, were not Janjaweed, but a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, the major guerilla group resisting the Sudanese pro-government forces. The SLA has splintered, with the faction that signed the recent peace accord turning against the more intransigent faction which has held out, calling the accords a sham. The ostensibly pro-peace faction is now attacking civilian villages, mimicking the tactics of their Janjaweed enemies. Again, there is an ethnic dimension: the supposedly pro-peace faction is led by ethnic Zaghawa, who are traditionally semi-nomadic herdsmen, while the hold-out faction is led by sedentary, agricultural Fur, who are the big majority in Darfur (“Land of the Fur”). “It was the Zaghawa who did this,” a Tina sheikh told Polgreen. “We used to fear the Arab janjaweed. Now we have another janjaweed.”

The Zaghawa faction is led by Minni Arcu Minnawi, who signed the peace accord in Nigeria May 5. The Fur faction, led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, refused to sign. Despite the numerical superiority of the Fur, the Zaghawa faction has more guns and fighters—apparently due to closer ties to the Zaghawa-led military of Chad, which has sponsored the rebel movement. Together, the two factions had liberated the area around Tina from the Sudanese government last year, and many Fur peasants who had fled to the Tawila camp following Janjaweed terror voluntarily repatriated to their villges. Now, following the Zaghawa terror, they are back at Tawila again.

At their base at Susuwa, the Zaghawa commanders denied everything, of course. Polgreeen notes that, “sounding very much like the government in Khartoum,” they said the conflict was not political, but had to do with Fur peasants stealing livestock from Zaghawa herdsmen.

As we have noted before, the US (like its de facto regional surrogate Chad) seems to be much closer to the pro-peace (read: pro-war) faction. What a surprise.

And this couldn’t be happening at a worse moment. From Reuters, May 19:

UNITED NATIONS – The next few weeks are critical for millions of people in Darfur as foreign aid efforts face collapse, and malnutrition and mortality may increase, the chief U.N. relief official said on Friday.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said attacks against aid workers had been relentless and access difficult. He said the under-equipped African Union force in Darfur needed immediate help and that international funding had to increase, especially from Gulf nations.

“The next few weeks will be make or break. We can turn the corner towards reconciliation and reconstruction, or see an even worse collapse of our efforts to provide protection and relief to millions of people,” Egeland told the 15-nation U.N. Security Council of his recent trip to Sudan and Chad.

“The next few weeks will be absolutely critical for millions of people in this region,” he said.” Otherwise “malnutrition and mortality rates would multiply in some areas, within weeks, not months.”

Egeland said help had to be given to the 7,300-strong African Union force, the only bulwark against atrocities in Darfur. Some troops had not been paid in two months, he added.

He said a U.N. force to augment the African troops was “absolutely necessary” and the only one which could help 2 to 3 million people return to their homes.

Sudan has not agreed to the deployment of a U.N. force and has not permitted the United Nations to send a military assessment mission to Darfur.

Brahimi to Khartoum
To this end, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, to go to Darfur next week in an effort to persuade the Sudan government to allow the mission and the subsequent U.N. force.

Diplomats said Brahimi, who resigned in December as a special U.N. envoy after having negotiated deals in Afghanistan and Iraq, could be persuasive with Khartoum. Arab nations have generally backed Sudan and refrained from criticizing Khartoum.

The Security Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution giving the Sudan government a week to let in the U.N. planning team.

The council has also called for strict observance of a far-reaching peace accord, adopted on May 5 in Abuja, Nigeria, and signed by the government but not all the rebel groups opposing it. Fighting has not yet subsided.

Some 200,000 people have died and nearly 3 million have been thrown out of their homes in Darfur, a vast arid region in western Sudan.

See our last post on Darfur.