May 2006

The big question after the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement is: will the United Nations decide to send a peace keeping force? There is already such a force sent by the African Union, but this force cannot stay much longer, because of a lack of financial resources. So, in fact the question is: will there be a transition from the present AU peace keeping force towards a UN force?

The Government of Sudan had declared its opposition towards such a transition. I wrote about this in my weblog of 7 April. In March and April President Bashir had said to high officials sent to Sudan by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (first the Under-Secretary General Gambari and later the Deputy Head of the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations, Annabi) that the Sudanese Government and the Parliament were against the transition. For that reason he would even not approve the request of the United Nations to receive a special delegation to review the situation in Darfur, in order to enable Kofi Annan to present an assessment report to the Security Council. The Security Council had demanded such a special assessment report many times, but the Sudanese had taken the position that it was not necessary to assess anything, because a follow up decision to prepare a peace keeping mission to Darfur could only be taken with the consent of the Government and it was not prepared to concur anyway. However, President Beshir had said, once a peace agreement has been signed, the UN may come back for consultations about a possible role of the UN in the implementation of that agreement.

Once the peace agreement had been signed the government initially chose a hard line. In the meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (Addis Ababa, 22 May) Minister Lam Akol of Foreign Affairs said that a transition from an AU force towards a UN force was out of the question for three reasons. First, there was no provision for such a transition in the Darfur Peace Agreement. The parties had clearly not found it necessary to have the AU force replaced by a force under the auspices of the UN. Second, those members of the Security Council who always had argued in favor of such a transition and who had been present during the Abuja negotiations - in particular the US and the UK - had never urged to include a provision for a UN force in the text of the Darfur Peace Agreement. Third. Now that there was peace it was no longer necessary to have an international peace force in Darfur. The parties would be able to keep the peace by themselves.

The first argument was not so strong. A transition from an AU to a UN force requires an agreement between the parties to the peace agreement and both the AU and the UN. The fact that there was no provision in the Darfur Peace Agreement was not decisive, though the parties could have agreed to invite the AU and the UN prepare a transition. So, Lam Akol had a point. This was strengthened by his second argument. I have never understood why the international observers present in Abuja refused to put up a reference to a UN force in the agreement, while at the same time in New York and Washington were pressing the UN to prepare itself for the transition. However, by signing the agreement parties are bound to abide all Security Council resolutions concerning Darfur. The preamble of the agreement explicitly says so. That will imply also possible future resolutions concerning a transition.

Would a UN force no longer be necessary now that there is peace? This was Lam Akols third point. It is a rather peculiar argument for a member of a government that has invited the United Nations to come to Sudan and help the parties to the earlier North-South peace agreement to keep that peace. It is even more necessary in Darfur than in South Sudan, because in Darfur there are still many forces that have not acceded to peace.

The African Union Peace and Security Council concluded its deliberations with a decision clearly stating that concrete steps had to be taken to prepare a transition towards a UN force. Until then the AU had only said to support such a transition 'in principle'. The reference to 'concrete steps' could not be misunderstood. In Khartoum the government seemed to understand this. The first reactions were less negative than expected, after having listened to the statement of Minister Lam Akol. However, already one day later the UN Security Council adopted a resolution urging Secretary General Kofi Annan to take such concrete steps. The paragraphs in that resolution were preceded by a reference to Chapter 7 of the Charter, which could be understood as preparing concrete steps towards a peace keeping mission without the consent of the Government of Sudan. It could also be interpreted otherwise. After all, Kofi Annan was only asked to send the assessment mission as soon as possible and to report the findings to the Security Council. Whether or not a peace keeping mission will be sent to Darfur still has to be decided. Moreover, the Security Council resolution was adopted by consensus, including Qatar, China and Russia, countries which are very cautious not to take a decision that would be misunderstood in Khartoum.

However, the Government of Sudan was quite annoyed. They thought that having signed a peace agreement would have given them at least the benefit of the doubt. “Nobody has congratulated us with the peace” was the general complaint amongst the politicians in Khartoum. The resolution, they felt, added insult to injury. This made the mission of Brahimi, Special Envoy of Kofi Annan, sent this week to Khartoum to consult the Government about a possible role for the United Nations in the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement very difficult. In the press conference at the end of his visit Brahimi said that the passing of the resolution had been unfortunate. It did certainly not help him. The resolution was premature, because it had been agreed that consultations with the Government of Sudan would have to precede the sending of an assessment mission. However, Brahimi, a former minister of Foreign Affairs of Algiers, and since many years one of the most experienced diplomatic advisors of Kofi Annan, was able to dispel the Sudanese apprehensions. “Do you really believe that I, having fought colonialism in my country and later on elsewhere in Africa, at the end of my career would lend myself to support re-colonisation?”

President Beshir has agreed to the proposal to send an assessment mission to Darfur. That is the result of Brahimi's visit. So, we are one step further. The next steps will have to be taken later on. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mustafa has stated that the phase of confrontation between Sudan and the United Nations is over. “We are now entering the phase of negotiations”. Those negotiations will be difficult. Sudan is clearly of the opinion that the UN can only come under Chapter 6 of the Charter, that means: upon the invitation of the sovereign state Sudan. That would be an operation similar to the one in Southern Sudan. However, the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, the rogue commanders and the rebel movements that have not agreed to peace will require a much more robust mandate. The fact that since the peace agreement has been signed, four weeks ago, militia are still attacking villages and rebel positions, makes this all the more necessary.
Will the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in Abuja earlier this month, hold? It has already been criticized for not meeting the expectations of all parties, in particular those of the Fur, represented by the faction of the SLM led by Abdul Wahid. So far, only one of the rebel movements has signed the agreement - the Minnie Minawi faction of the SLM. It is the strongest one militarily, but it is neither regionally nor tribally representative of the people in Darfur. We had always warned against partial agreements resulting from talks between the government and one of the rebel movements only, leaving others aside. Such a divide and rule tactic had been applied frequently by the government in the war with the South. Recently they followed the same tactic in the conflict with rebel movements in the East and they had not shied away from this practice in their dealings with the parties in Darfur. However, the new Darfur Peace Agreement is not a partial agreement resulting from separate talks. It is the result of the comprehensive and transparent negotiations with all the movements at the same time. At the end some decided to agree, others opted out. It is perfectly defendable to claim that this agreement is a good compromise between the interests of all parties, and that it should not be re-opened.
At last the Government seems to be serious. Vice President Taha assured me that the army, the governors and the tribes would be instructed to comply fully with all provisions of the agreement. Since Abuja I went again twice to Darfur and I noticed a change in the attitude of both the authorities and tribal leaders. The people of Darfur want peace and the government seems to understand that there is no other option anymore. Will the Minnie Minawi faction comply? The day after the signing of the agreement there was a rumor in Abuja that his Commander in Chief, Haggar, had declared that he refused to respect the agreement. This was bad news. I decided to visit him in his hotel, together with my colleague Kingibe, the Special Representative of the African Union. We woke him up. He was quite angry: “I have given my word, I have instructed my commanders to observe the agreement and I will stick to it”. In the field his commanders gave me the same message: “We got the message. We still have questions, but Minawi has signed and we will follow.”
This is promising. However, there are still many hurdles to be taken. Even if all three movements had joined in the agreement, implementation would have been difficult. Many armed groups will remain active: bandits, rogue commanders and warlords, militia, Janjaweed, Chadian rebels on Sudanese soil. To contain them will be a hell of a job. However, to render the agreement sustainable we must do first things first. It is essential, first, to get support from all parties who, by participating in the talks, had expressed a preference for peace. The circle of supporters and signatories has to be broadened. Without support from the Fur, the major tribe in Darfur, peace is not sustainable.
Abdel Wahid, the leader of the other faction of the SLM, refused to sign, though many of his demands were met, at least half way and often more than that. During the last two years Abdul Wahid has hardly been in Sudan itself, always traveling abroad to get support for the movement he started. He is clearly the “symbol” for his people, perhaps even more than before November last year, when his movement split into two factions. This took place in a field conference in Haskenita, in Darfur, initially called for by Wahid, but hijacked by his rival Minawi. Since then the movement is much less multi-tribal than before. The Minawi faction receives its support mainly from the Zaghawa, the Wahid faction mainly from the Fur. On the ground both factions fight each other, a matter of great concern, not only because this weakens the movement as such, but also because these fights have led to human rights violations similar to those by the militia and the Janjaweed. Both factions loathe each other. The leaders do not speak with other. Both factions consider the other as irrelevant or ‘minor’ or ‘junior’ or, worse, illegitimate. After the Haskenita conference they denied each others existence. Presently both accuse the other of having sided with the government or even with the Janjaweed. All this made the talks in Abuja quite cumbersome, and sometimes comical or spooky. Their mutual enmity may even have been the main reason why one faction signed and the other did not. It could have been the other way round ….
Yet it is essential that both agree. So, it is crucial to get Abdul Wahid on board, without thereby loosing Minnie Minawi. After the signing of the peace agreement by Minawi Wahid stayed another week in Abuja for talks with the mediators of the African Union. We received some positive signals. Wahid seemed to be willing to add his signature, if some clarifications could be given and attached to the agreement. The AU asked us even not to publish the text of the agreement on the UNMIS website. Some changes might be necessary. Wahid got another chance and the AU decided unilaterally to postpone the date upon which the agreement became operational with a day or ten, despite the fact that this date was part of the agreement itself (the day of signature, May 5). However, in the course of these talks Wahid increased his demands day after day. This meant in fact that the text would have to be re-opened, which was out of the question. So, on May 16 the African Union Peace and Security Council, meeting in Addis Ababa, decided to welcome and confirm the agreement as it stand, inviting Wahid to sign before the end of this month and threatening with sanctions in case he will not comply.
I participated in the meeting in Addis. In my statement I emphasized three priorities; broadening the circle of signatories, focusing on implementation of the agreement in order not to let it slip away, and, last but not least, stopping the Janjaweed. The three priorities are interrelated. There is much skepticism around the agreement. Building confidence, in particular amongst those who have not yet signed, requires an end to all violations and attacks.
Bringing Abdul Wahid and the Fur aboard requires more than sanctions. In the corridors of Abuja some observers had proposed to consider parties who would not sign as ‘outlaws’. That would be unwise. From all my contacts with his supporters in Khartoum and in Darfur itself I can only conclude: in the present circumstances his people will follow the leader, whether he signs or not, irrespective of the substance of the agreement. This can only be changed by widely giving information about the real content of the agreement. In the last two weeks I have tried to do so in quite a few meetings. In Khartoum I spoke with representatives of the civil society, in the Jebel Mara with his commanders, in camps for displaced people with tribal leaders. Most of them hardly knew what was in the agreement. They had not been told or had been told half truths. To brand them as outlaws would imply that possible bridges towards them would be blown up and that their positions would harden. Outlaws would have to be disciplined with force. I discussed this with Minnie Minawi’s commanders in the field and asked them whether they would concur with putting their former allies in the same category of outlaws as their arch-enemy the Janjaweed. Their answers and body language were clear: “of course not”. “Stop attacking them”, I pleaded. I had made that plea many times. Since Abuja that fighting has diminished.
What did not diminish, however, were the attacks by militia and Janjaweed. In the last two weeks in Khor Abeche, Labado and around Kutum many people have been killed. These attacks took place after the agreement. In West Darfur, even in the city El Geneina itself, bandits related with the Janjaweed have become blatantly aggressive, not only towards civilians but also towards the police and the military, governmental as well as African Union military. This was the main question asked by all commanders and all displaced persons alike, irrespective of the rebel faction they felt associated with: “What about the Janjaweed? Will the peace agreement stop them?”     
In Abuja that question had never been asked by Abdul Wahid himself. From the beginning he was more interested in questions of power: whether the Darfurians would get a Vice-President in Sudan (a position which he claimed for himself), whether Darfur would become one region or would remain three states, whether Darfurians would get an adequate number of posts in the national government and in the assembly, and whether the SLM would get the majority in Darfur and become stronger than the governmental party, the NCP. These are relevant questions. However, whether or not to contain and disarm the Arab militia and the Janjaweed is for his people a matter of life and death. The people behind Minie Minawi and Abdul Wahid will only believe in the peace agreement if they see that the government and the international community together are serious and successful in stopping the Janjaweed. Then they might press their leaders to reconcile. This also may be the most effective way to bring Abdul Wahid aboard.
This cannot be accomplished overnight. I believe that in the meantime it is important to invite the tribal leaders behind Abdul Wahid to participate in the institutions that are to be established on the basis of the peace agreement. They should be able to take part in the Darfur Darfur Dialogue, in the working groups discussing refugee return and village reconstruction and also in the Cease Fire Commission. After all, despite the fact that Abdul Wahid did not yet sign the Abuja peace agreement, he had signed earlier cease fire agreements. He is still bound by his signature and can be taken to task. So, do not exclude, but use carrot and stick.
“I am happy, but not satisfied', Salim Salim told me at the end of the Darfur peace negotiations in Abuja. After seven rounds of talks, in a period of one and a half year, we finally got a peace agreement. However, not everybody signed. Surprisingly, the Minnie Minawi faction of the SLM gave its consent, while the Abdul Wahid faction did not. The JEM, not surprisingly, opted out. I do not think the latter ever had the intention to reach an agreement. Abdul Wahid did. However, he did shy away from peace, because he was afraid to confront his constituency. He kept saying that the agreement did not meet the expectations of his people. No wonder, because he had raised these expectations by making promises he could not keep.

Salim Salim had produced a compromise text reflecting the inputs from all parties. It was a serious effort to meet all of them halfway. It was not an ideal solution of the differences between the parties, but it was a workable common denominator. Salim did not present the compromise as a 'take it or leave it' position. Such a text is the opposite of a so-called non-paper, which is often presented at the beginning of a negotiation, and which can be torn into pieces in the process of drafting a final agreement. Salim's text was a 'take it, but not leave it' paper. Parties could improve the text, leaving the basic structure intact and provided that they would agree on the amendments.

The Government quickly declared its willingness to accept Salim's text. Vice President Taha, who finally had come to Abuja, stated that he had a number of difficulties with the text, but that he was willing to put them aside in the interest of peace. It was clever, but it instilled the fear amongst the movements that the text was biased. In our view that was not the case. We told the movements that the international observers, present in Abuja, were backing the compromise presented by the African Union and that the movements should only try to improve the text, rather than replace it by a new one. Salim preferred, in this stage, the process to take its course, rather than leading negotiations on the basis of his text. He did not see room for changes to be proposed by himself as mediator. However, the process got stalemated, because parties did not take the initiative to start talking with each other. When finally the African Union took the lead again, the movements came back with long shopping lists, which in fact were a replica of their initial positions. The team of the JEM and that of Minnie Minawi rejected the text outright. Abdul Wahid's team was more reasonable and said that it could negotiate further.

Salim extended the deadline with a couple of days. Some partner countries sent high level delegations in order to help breaking the deadlock: Assistant Secretary of State Zoellick of the US, Minister of Development Cooperation Hillary Wedgwood Benn of the UK, EU Special Envoy Pekka Haavistoo, President Obasanjo of Nigeria, the Chairman of the AU Council Konare and some others. They were able to propose a few amendments making the text more acceptable to the movements, without loosing the consent of the government. I had to leave Abuja in order to participate in a UN meeting in New York which I could not afford to miss, but SG Kofi Annan let me return to Abuja right after the first session. When I arrived in Abuja I could not play a role anymore. The dice had been cast. The Government, now represented by minister Khalifa - of whom many observers had said that as long as he would lead the delegation a compromise would not be possible -, declared that the new text was acceptable. Minnie Minawi said the same. Abdul Wahid, however, took distance from his negotiators and said that the text was unacceptable. Khalil, the leader of the JEM, did the same, using language that insulted President Obasanjo, and left. Obasanjo had chaired the last phase of the talks very charmingly. He decided to organize the signing ceremony right away. We feared that initialing only, to be followed by a signing ceremony later this month, was too risky. Parties might change their mind again ….

That is one of the weaknesses of the agreement: the uncertainty whether it will hold. All partial agreements thus far, following the N'dJamena cease fire agreement of May 2004, had become dead letters. Members of the international community, present in Abuja, co-signed the agreement as witnesses - I did so on behalf of the United Nations -, but did not have the guarantee that parties would keep their word. On the contrary: our co-signing was meant as a kind of guarantee to the parties. By signing we committed ourselves explicitly to participate actively in all institutions to be established by the new peace agreement. This also implied that any violation or non-implementation of the agreement would be noticed and addressed by, for instance, the Security Council of the United Nations.

In a particular stage of the talks Abdul Wahid had asked for guarantees. Perhaps the above was not sufficient in his eyes, though such guarantees - designed in a similar fashion as those concerning the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan - go further than the commitments made by the international community with regard to peace agreements elsewhere in Africa. Maybe Abdul Wahid will come to that conclusion later, after having studied the text of the agreement in more detail. Maybe he will realize that quite a few of his wishes (such as adequate compensation of the victims) could be raised anew in the process of implementation of the agreement, without re-opening the text. Maybe his advisors, his commanders and the tribal leaders in his constituency will put pressure on him to change his position and sign. The African Union has given him until the next meeting of its Peace and Security Council on 15 May to do so.

I am traveling this week to Darfur to speak with all parties concerned, not with their representatives in Abuja, but with commanders, tribal leaders, authorities and representatives of the civil society in order to discuss the significance of the Darfur Peace Agreement. During the last couple of months a disconnect has arisen between the discussions in Abuja and the reality on the ground in Darfur. As a matter of fact, while the atmosphere at the negotiating table improved, the fighting in the field intensified. The gap has to be bridged. One way to do so is to broaden the circle of those who have the courage to accept a compromise rather than continue fighting. War never results in a compromise. It is either victory or defeat. But the people whom the movements claim to represent will always loose, because both victory and defeat will make more victims. Only a compromise, as contained in the Darfur Peace Agreement, will guarantee that the plight of the present victims can be reversed and that no more new victims will be made.