The Problems with Darfur

It seems that we are seeing the Darfur rebel-buy in problem become fully manifest ahead of this weekend’s peace talks. Various news agencies are reporting that few of the key players plan to attend the peace talks on Saturday in Sirte, Libya. Significant no-shows, of course, would mean that the peace talks would fail before they began.

To make matters worse, the peacekeeping force being prepared for Darfur is already beset by problems. Not only is UNAMID having trouble finding donor countries willing to provide 24 helicopters, but the government of Sudan is placing onerous bureaucratic obstacles to its deployment. Khartoum, for example, refuses to let the UN deploy any troops not from Africa–never mind that African militaries lack certain capacities neccessary to get the mission off the ground.

The UN special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, (known as one of the more skilled diplomats in the UN system) is understandably frustrated. The UN will inevitably be blamed for failing in Darfur. But by itself, the UN has no real power to press intransigent rebel groups to attend the meeting. Eliasson, for example, can’t threaten to sanction Khalil Ibrahim for refusing to join the talks. Neither can Jan Elliason knock on President Bashir’s door and threaten further sanctions should his government, say, refuse to lease land or provide ports of entry to the peacekeeping force. The real power rests with member states. And so far, key member states are clearly not applying the kind of pressure necessary to force all parties to the table this weekend.

UPDATE: Julia Spiegel from the Enough Campaign writes in:

“I don’t think the peace talks are doomed to fail if all of the rebel leaders are not at the table at the outset. It’s not ideal, of course, but the international community can work intensively to bring other rebel parties and potential spoilers into the fold as the talks proceed.”

“These discussions are going to take a very long time and there’s potential there to bring others on board, once the process has been proven to be legitimate. But it will take serious energy and engagement.”