By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM, June 15 (Reuters) - Sudan has won a diplomatic victory by accepting a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur on terms that, once again, buy it more time and stave off sanctions, analysts say.
After months of negotiations, Sudan accepted a joint force of at least 20,000 troops and police, but said it would be under AU command and control and most troops would be African, conditions analysts say weaken its ability to protect 2.5 million Darfuris driven from their homes by four years of conflict.
"This has to count as a diplomatic victory for the regime," said Eric Reeves, a U.S. academic and Darfur activist. "Time and time again they've had their backs apparently against the wall, but have wiggled out to retain overall control of the security crisis in Darfur."
"Anything that causes delays is to (Khartoum)'s advantage, as is any type of agreement that leaves them basically unscathed in terms of power within Sudan," said Sudan expert John Ashworth.
The United Nations and the AU hailed Sudan's acceptance of a joint force as a breakthrough, no matter whether it resulted from threats of sanctions and international arrest warrants for a junior minister and allied militia leader for war crimes, or from open discussions and negotiations.
But many remain sceptical, noting that Khartoum has signed many deals that have seen little in the way of implementation.
Despite numerous signed agreements, Khartoum has failed to disarm militia who continue to attack civilians in Darfur.
An east Sudan deal has seen little progress, last year's Darfur peace accord only plunged the remote west deeper into chaos, and a north-south deal is in deadlock over the basic issues of oil and borders.
"The announcement comes in the wake of countless broken promises and therefore in an atmosphere of mistrust," said actress Mia Farrow, who is leading a campaign to persuade China to put pressure on Khartoum over Darfur. "The fact that the agreement is conditional suggests that it will not be implemented any time soon."
"We are looking at a time line imposed over immeasurable human suffering," she added.
AID CONVOYS ATTACKED DAILY
International experts estimate 200,000 people have died in Darfur from rape, killing, disease and hunger. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.
Top U.N. officials say that while the world's largest humanitarian operation has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, the collapse of law and order in a region the size of France means aid convoys are attacked almost daily. At least four aid agencies have pulled out of Darfur.
Analysts say Khartoum has managed to shelve a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution authorising a strong U.N. peacekeeping force of more than 23,000 to replace the struggling 7,000-strong AU force in Darfur.
Some AU soldiers in Darfur go months without pay and have themselves been attacked and had their vehicles and ammunition stolen, even by the one rebel faction which signed last year's AU-mediated peace deal.
Khartoum had asked the United Nations to fund the African mission to resolve these problems, and analysts say the latest agreement has granted Sudan's wish.
"(Khartoum) has been seeking to neuter the UN force established in Resolution 1706 for almost a year now, and I am certain the regime views this 'agreement' as a big step forward in that effort," said Lawrence Rossin, a senior member of the activist Save Darfur Coalition.
Reeves said the joint force is being formed under vague conditions which will hinder the mission's effectiveness.
"Few are happy with this hybridisation... the key issue of command and control remains unsettled -- a critically important issue," Reeves said.
Rossin said the force would be ineffective: "The AU has no capabilities ... either to provide enough qualified troops and police, or to provide effective command and control."
"I am confident that the Sudanese regime also expects it to be ineffective," Rossin added. "What this 'agreement' is very unlikely to achieve for the people of Darfur is effective protection from violence by international peacekeepers."
But Reeves said the people of Darfur, who languish in miserable makeshift camps in fear of attack and too scared to go home, needed to grasp this tiny seed of hope.
"The security crisis is so desperate that we do not have the luxury of abandoning this last international effort to protect civilians, especially in the camps."
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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