SG BAN at African Union Summit – Darfur and Somalia on agenda

The continuing conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is what the new UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON has said is his top priority at the moment, and he is in Addis Ababa to discuss this and other matters with African leaders meeting at the African Union Summit.

In a keynote address at the Summit meeting on Monday, BAN urged African leaders to back the urgent deployment of a joint force of UN and African Union peacekeepers. BAN also said that conditions for humanitarian aid workers in Darfur were perilous.

Some of the issues on the agenda have many layers of complication.

Sudan had been in line to assume the rotating presidency of the African Union, and Sudan’s President Al-Bashir was pressing the case. On Monday, however, the African Union elected, instead, Ghana’s President John Kufuor as the new AU leader. (Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is from Ghana, and it is not impossible to imagine him involved in negotiations on Darfur or other issues on the AU agenda.)

Sudan was supposed to assume the AU presidency in 2006, but faced objections — precisely because it was considered unseemly and inappropriate, while the conflict in Darfur continued. However much of a simplification it may be, there is nevertheless a persistent belief that there are racialist components to Sudan’s internal conflicts — which is unacceptable to modern-day Africa.

In recent years, the word “genocide” – a term weighty with international law and treaty implications – has been mentioned in connection with the conflict in Darfur, but it has not been heard much recently.

Last year, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir agreed to postpone for one year his taking office as African Union head, while a Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated and finally pushed through, with African Union and international mediation (mainly U.S. and British) last May.

(Interestingly, SG BAN did not mention the DPA in remarks to journalists after his meeting with Sudan’s President Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on Monday — he pointedly spoke only of the CPA, which is the Comprehensive Political Agreement reached between the Government and southern Sudan: “I reiterated the UN’s strong commitment to the political process in Sudan, emphasizing the centrality of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the importance of its timely and effective implementation…”)

President Al-Bashir has so far adamantly refused to accept UN Peacekeeping in Darfur, even at the cost of defying a UN Security Council resolution adopted late last year.

An interim agreement has permitted a few specialized UN Peacekeeping military and police forces and other personnel, as well as equipment, to deploy in Darfur, but they are functioning in support of the African Unit peacekeepers there.

One big question is the Addis Ababa meeting: can President Al-Bashir be persuaded to drop his opposition to the larger United Nations Peacekeeping presence in Darfur that has already been approved by the UN Security Council?

After the talks between UN SG BAN and Sudan’s President in Addis Ababa on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that “Sudanese presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa said there was consensus on the first two stages of U.N. support for a 7,500-strong African Union mission in Darfur, but there was no agreement to deploy a hybrid force. ‘We are in full agreement on the first and second stages. We began discussions on the third stage,’ Khalifa told Reuters after 1-1/2 hours of talks which made Bashir late for a meeting of African leaders to decide the chair of the pan-African body. The violence in Darfur generated strong opposition to Sudan taking over the AU chairmanship in Addis, as promised a year ago. Sudan said it eventually withdrew to avoid dividing the continent. Khalifa said: ‘We have agreed on a hybrid operation not a hybrid force‘.”

The conflict in Darfur is an internal Sudanese dispute. But, UN member states have accepted that there is a “responsibility to protect” populations being victimized within their own countries. In addition, spill-over effects from the conflict in Darfur, including cross-border incidents, have given it an international dimension which some governments (France is apparently leading in this) argue gives justification for also putting UN peacekeepers in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, and this has already come under discussion in the UN Security Council.

Alex de Waal, who has participated as an expert adviser in the Darfur peace negotiations, wrote in the London Review of Books last November that “Military intervention won’t stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It’s a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn’t travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It’s a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement”.

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), finalised in May 2006, was signed by the Sudan government and just one of the rebel factions. De Waal wrote: “Had the leader of the main part of the Sudan Liberation Movement also signed, the current crisis would not have happened”. In addition, he pointed out that “It doesn’t specify a UN peacekeeping force – this issue was left for the UN to negotiate with Khartoum”.

De Waal also wrote that “Allowing in UN troops to police a ceasefire and implement a peace agreement that will help the Congress Party consolidate its place in Sudan is one thing. Allowing in ‘international forces’ – the Arabic term, quwat al dauliya, is the same as the one used for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – midway through a conflict, with an open-ended mandate, is quite another.

The combination of a huge international force – it would take many more than the 20,000 estimated to be needed to enforce a ceasefire – and 8000 Minawi troops with, Khartoum suspects, direct US backing, would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of the country…Bashir’s other main fear is that a UN force would be mandated to execute International Criminal Court arrest warrants. With indictments expected soon, Bashir is fearful that his close military colleagues are likely to be on the list”.

Jan Pronk, the former Special Representative of former UN SG Kofi Annan, who was declared persona non grata in October by the Sudanese government — and who later lamented the lack of support he received from the UN bureaucracy — wrote on his blog on 13 March 2006 that: “The political climate in Sudan towards the UN is deteriorating. In the press statements have been published citing civil society organizations calling for ‘resistance against foreign intervention’, ‘raising the flag of Jihad’, warning both the international community and Sudanese authorities not to ‘help the colonization to come to Darfur’, referring to the West as ‘the devil’, calling for martyrdom and for a readiness to sacrifice and ‘to repulse any attack’, announcing a ‘graveyard for the invaders’. In most statements reference is made to the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly the majority of the people assume that there are UN forces in these two countries. This is not the case, but opinion leaders and the public do not make a distinction between the UN and the US or NATO. Those who are aware of the difference express their fear that the UN will pave the way for the US and NATO or say that the UN is an instrument in the hands of the US.”

On the same post, Jan Pronk write that “An award of $100.000 has been promised to the person who will kill me. This has been published in the newspaper Al Watan, with the name of the organization and its leader who have announced this award. It goes with the job and we cannot afford to be intimidated…”

Pronk’s mandate from the UN ended on 31 December.

Pronk write on his blog on 5 March 2006 that he had “brought two messages to my colleagues in New York and to the ambassador members of the Security Council. First: the people must be protected and we can no longer wait. Second: do not organize the protection in such a way that the peace keepers become part of the problem, rather than the solution…. my thoughts went back to Srebrenica, 1995. Will we make the same mistakes, or other, with similar consequences?”

Toward the end of last year, the UN says, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir had “responded positively to three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package.”

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported a first meeting on 11 December in Khartoum of a Tripartite Mechanism, composed of representatives of UNMIS, the African Union and the Sudanese Government: “They were discussing how to implement the $21 million UN support package to AMIS, the first part of a three-phase process that is expected to eventually culminate in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.”

However, on 10 January, there was a conflicting indication. The Times of London reported that “Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has rejected the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, saying they were not required,” and that African Union troops were sufficient, the Times (London) reported. “His comment contradicted statements by Sudanese officials, who said last month the government would accept a limited number of UN forces…”

The next day, UN SG BAN KI-MOON told journalists at UNHQ/NY he had just spoken with Jan Eliasson, the Special Representative for Darfur, who was in Sudan that morning, “and he is encouraged by his meetings with President Bashir and other Sudanese leaders…he was assured of very strong cooperation and assistance on the part of the Sudanese Government and President to have a very good cooperation among United Nations, Sudanese Government and the African Union. Therefore, I’m not quite sure about what he said about this so-called – you said ‘rejection’ – of UN forces. Because of the sensitivity of this situation, I’m not in a position to tell you much in detail…I can tell you at this time that this is on the highest priority which I am pursuing…[but] I am not in a position to disclose all what I have been discussing with African leaders.”

Sudanese and UN officials have also said that recent accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan may be another factor that could jeopardize UN deployment in Darfur.

Ban told journalists in New York: “I will also stress the UN policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel and others: zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. In the coming months, I will work with Member States to forge an ever stronger partnership to ensure that accountability is brought to bear — among the perpetrators, and among their commanders and superiors.”

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) meeting is being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the AU secretariat is located. The UN also has its African regional office in Addis Ababa.

But, Ethiopian troops (with U.S. training and backing) have recently invaded neighboring Somalia — albeit in support of a Provisional Somalia Government that is supported by the UN Security Council.

The target of the Ethiopian military strike was the Islamic Courts grouping, which was able to bring some degree of law and order where the Provisional Somalia Government had been unable to do so. (The Ethiopians say that the Islamic Courts were getting help from Ethiopia’s arch-rival, Eritrea. It was only a quick hop and a jump from there to claim that the Ethiopian military action in Somalia was a strike against international terrorism, al-Qaeda, and “Islamic fascism”.)

The situation in Somalia is also on the agenda at the African Union Summit.

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