NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Everyone’s pockets are empty – from the Sudanese government to the Western nations who bankroll the world’s largest peacekeeping mission in Darfur – making peace in the troubled region even harder to achieve, experts say.
The United Nations plans to cut the number of African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers. This comes despite the fact that the United States recently expressed alarm over “the sharp deterioration in security” in Darfur.
The U.S. government statement followed several days of fighting in which at least 70 people were killed in late September in Hashaba, 70km (43 miles) north-west of the Darfuri capital El Fasher.
Law and order have collapsed in parts of the vast territory in Western Sudan. Banditry, tribal fighting and clashes between rebels and government forces continue. Rebels took up arms against the government in 2003, saying the central government had neglected the region.
Some 3.2 million people in Darfur receive humanitarian aid, 1.7 million of whom live in camps for the displaced.
“The world has become tired of the conflict without seeing any solutions in sight,” said Jehanne Henry, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Darfur seems to have fallen off the radar and I would attribute it to just fatigue by a lot of Sudan watchers and a sense of frustration that nothing seems to be moving forward.”
Faced with a struggling economy, Sudan has introduced austerity measures to plug a $2.4-billion public finance gap following the secession of South Sudan last year. When South Sudan seceded it took three quarters of the country's oil output with it.
And donor funding has not met humanitarian needs for the region. By the end of September, only 48 percent of the $1.1 billion required for Darfur’s humanitarian needs this year had been funded. By the same point last year, 55 percent of required funding needs had been met.
In response, the United Nations recently allocated $14 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to humanitarian projects in Darfur.
The desert of Darfur is home to the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, costing $2 billion a year.
In July, the U.N. Security Council decided to reduce the number of peacekeepers in Darfur by 20 percent by the end of 2013. The head of U.N. peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous said UNAMID will be “right-sized” from 19,555 to 16,200 military personnel and from 3,772 to 2,310 police officers.
“They (the international community) just want to wash their hands of this thing and get the U.N. force out of there because that U.N. force is costing an awful lot of money and it’s not clear whether it’s making much of an impact,” said Harry Verhoeven, who teaches African politics at Oxford University.
“It’s just that no one is quite able to find the right framing of the pull out.”
Meanwhile, violence in Darfur has persisted.
Following the killings in Hashaba in September, a convoy of UNAMID vehicles attempted to visit the scene to investigate. They were fired upon by “unidentified assailants” with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
One peacekeeper was killed – the 43rd since the mission’s deployment in 2008.
And on Nov. 2, at least 10 people were killed when armed men attacked Sigili village, 40km (25 miles) south-east of El Fasher, in vehicles and on camels, firing on civilians from a rival ethnic group and burning down homes.
Human Rights Watch said witnesses identified the attackers as members of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), a pro-government militia. But the rights group said it could not independently confirm this.
The following day, government soldiers at a military checkpoint prevented UNAMID peacekeepers from accessing the site to investigate.
When a convoy of peacekeepers was finally allowed to visit Sigili on Nov. 6, the village was “completely deserted,” UNAMID said in a statement.
“There is nothing on the ground that justifies a drawdown of UNAMID forces,” said Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert and author of Compromising with Evil: An Archival History of Greater Sudan 2007 – 2012.
“UNAMID has been so disastrously bad, so incompetent, so poorly led for so long that I think that the reason the force is being drawn down is simply because it’s not cost effective.”
DOHA PEACE TALKS
In 2011, Qatar brokered a deal between Sudan and one small rebel group, the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM).
In October a second rebel group agreed to start peace talks with Khartoum this month in the Qatari capital Doha.
The United Nations and negotiators hoped that other rebels would also sign on to the Doha peace process. But there is little incentive for them to do so, said Verhoeven.
The Sudanese government has a long history of using money and patronage to buy off its opponents, said Verhoeven.
“(Khartoum) likes this model very much because it’s actually a rather cheap solution and of course the government never has to deal with the fundamental problems,” he said.
“The problem is at the moment the (Sudanese) government does not have any money to bribe off the rebels or to offer them the cosy positions which I think a lot of them would be willing to take,” he said.
The government was due, upon signing the 2011 peace agreement, to then release $200 million to fund reconstruction projects and to help return displaced people home.
More than a year after the agreement, Darfur Regional Authority spokesperson Ibrahim Madibou has called on the finance ministry to release this $200 million, according to a media report earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Darfur Regional Authority, which was revived to oversee reconstruction efforts as part of the 2011 Doha peace agreement, is hoping that at a donor conference in Doha in December it can attract some of the $8 billion it requires.
But prospects seem thin, experts said.