The Darfur Rebel Buy-In Problem

The Associated Press has an excellent run down of the central challenge facing a political settlement to the Darfur conflict. Many rebel groups are simply refusing to join new UN / AU sponsored peace talks — and not without reason. Last week, for example, a UN mediator met with the leader one of the main rebel holdouts to persuade him to join the peace talks. Then, two days later, the Sudanese air force bombed his town (violating a ban on offensive military over-flights over Darfur.)

This is the kind of vicious circle that is preventing rebel buy-in for the peace-talks: rebels are refusing to join in peace talks because, not without reason, they believe Khartoum will just violate the agreement anyway. Still, rebel buy-in is essential to any political settlement–and peacekeepers can’t really deploy until there is at least some semblance of a peace process underway.

The one positive development in recent weeks is that Libya–which is known to have close ties with some of the rebel groups–is finally beginning to play a constructive role in the conflict. The peace conference scheduled for late October will be held in Tripoli and overseen by Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi. Libya’s newfound cooperation is no accident–the country is trying to pull itself out of international isolation. And sensing the opportunity to make headway on Darfur, Secretary General Ban spent a day in Tripoli last week, meeting with the Libyan leader for hours of one-on-one talks.