UN Sponsoring Rebel Unity Talks in Darfur

Today’s New York Times write-up of Ban’s first visit to Sudan underscores a dilemma faced by the proposed African Union-United Nations hybrid force for Darfur. Namely, that for the peacekeepers to deploy to Darfur, there must first be some semblance of a peace to keep. Of course, this requires foremost the cooperation of the central government and Darfuri rebels. But in Darfur the peace process is complicated by the fact that the militias opposing the central government are fractious.

When the rebellion broke out in Darfur in 2003, the rebels were largely unified. But since then, the rebels have split into various factions with disparate leadership and command structures. For a comprehensive peace agreement with Khartoum to take hold, the rebels first must make peace among themselves. To that end, the Times reports that Ban offered UN support for talks on rebel unity.

Mr. Ban said he would extend an invitation to the eight major rebel groups involved in the fighting in Darfur for a “full-fledged peace conference” this fall. The groups met last month in Arusha, Tanzania, and came up with a framework for sharing power and resources that the United Nations says lays a basis for talks with the government.

The UN is certainly the right platform to convene such a meeting. But member states too should be ready and willing to make this conference successful by incentivizing rebel unity. It is only when a political process between the rebel groups is underway that talks between the government and Darfuri rebels can make real headway.