KHARTOUM, 19 July (IRIN) - The Africa Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has helped calm the situation in some areas of Sudan's war-torn western region of Darfur, allowing for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
However, huge challenges remain before the region can enjoy complete peace, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, head of AMIS, told IRIN in an interview in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on 18 July. Below are excerpts from the interview:
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the current situation on the ground in Darfur, in military and security terms, and how does it affect the humanitarian situation?
ANSWER: Over the last few months the security situation on the ground in Darfur has generally calmed down in the sense that fixed combat between the parties - the two principal rebel movements and government troops - has more or less vanished. What we had in the run-up to the resumption of the Abuja peace talks in June, from May to the first half of June, was fighting between the rebel elements. I take it they were just skirmishes for territory in the run-up to the talks; that too has now died down.
What we now have is sort of usual banditry. From time to time inter-tribal fights flare up, but very sparingly. You can say the security situation on the ground is calm. That assists those who deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need.
However, because of other factors, not necessarily to do with the absence of security, the humanitarian situation is not really something cheerful, and the prognosis also doesn't look good. There are attacks on convoys, particularly food convoys, and fraud in the distribution of humanitarian materials in the camps. But all told, we as AMIS try to assist the humanitarian agencies and NGOs to do their work in a more peaceful environment. From a purely humanitarian point of view, I wouldn't say they have access everywhere, but there are many places they can go.
Right now the number of war-affected is rising; we are looking at something like three million. Quite a number - about 200,000 - are new arrivals, so there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Q: How large is the African Union (AU) force on the ground in Darfur at present? How many troops are you expecting to arrive in the near future?
A: We now have 2,201 military personnel. In addition, we have 602 civilian police personnel. The AU has 3,392 personnel on the ground in Darfur. Following the decision of the AU Peace and Security Council to enhance this level to 7,500 by the end of September, we are expecting 5,315 new arrivals. The Nigerian battalion has already arrived, and they are deployed. The Rwandan battalion has started deployment and will finish by 30 August.
We are on schedule. We have learned our lessons from the first deployment exercise, when we were very much behind in both generating the troops and in deploying. Now we are [on schedule] according to our deployment plans. By the end of September I expect we will have all 7,500 troops. We also have the police - the new authorised ceiling is 1,560. I expect that between now and the end of September we will generate some 858 fresh policemen and women for deployment in Darfur.
Q: How will the expansion change what the AU is able to do in Darfur? Will they have an expanded mandate?
A: Since the deployment of AMIS I, we have always made the provision that we would deploy up to such and such a strength. And then we would review the situation after a certain period and if need be, we would then enhance. It was in this context that in March, there was the assessment mission led by the AU, in which the UN, the EU and others participated. We came to the conclusion that clearly, wherever the AU troops were deployed, there was relative calm, which was enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The kind of problems we were having were in areas where the AU was not deployed. We thought, as we assessed the situation at that time, that if we now had this new deployment of some 7,000, we would cover a greater area. Of course we would also deploy in a manner that would address the volatile areas, the hottest spots. We hope that by the time we deploy everybody - by the end of September - we will cover, more or less, the hot areas, and therefore there should be a general level of calm in Darfur.
As for the mandate, we believe we have a sufficient mandate to deal with the situations that we have come across and that we envisage.
Q: The AU is currently conducting weekly patrols to accompany women when they venture outside internally displaced persons' (IDP) camps to look for firewood. What other kinds of non-traditional protection missions does the AU carry out to protect vulnerable populations?
A: I don't think anything we do in Darfur is traditional to the police or the military. We are dealing with a situation of crisis and every day they have to be creative and flexible to respond to situations that are arising before their very eyes for the first time. The police element was included in Darfur in October 2004, I think from a realisation that in and around the IDP camps, there is a lot of gender-based violence - the kind that only the police would be better placed to deal with than the military.
We had women incorporated into our police component so they could talk to the women and child victims of rape and other assaults. It became evident that the times of the day when these attacks occur are when the women leave the camps to get the usual likes of life sustenance, like firewood and so on - whatever it is that they need to get from outside the camp. That's when they are attacked, so the best way to extend protection is to accompany them when they are on the road.
There are situations where the Darfurian population comes to our civilian police to launch normal complaints: "Oh, last night some unknown person broke into my house while I was not there and stole 2000 dinar," etc. That's not why our police are there, but they have to listen. They have to take their complaints and then guide them to go and see the GoS [Government of Sudan] police. Of course they knew the GoS police was there before they came to us, so we don't just say 'go', but we take them there. The GoS police then pursue the complaint. That way we try to build confidence between the GoS police and the population. This is how we hope to also mentor the GoS police and foster greater cooperation in this and many other fields, including undertaking joint patrols.
Q: What is needed to reach a comprehensive peace in Darfur?
A: Political will on the part of the Sudanese parties. All the ingredients are there for them to negotiate in good faith and to reach a just outcome for all sides; the environment both within Sudan with the inauguration of the new presidency and the government of national unity, with the association of the non-armed political elements of the NDA [National Democratic Alliance, the main coalition of northern opposition parties] and others in the constitution-making process. What is happening is a process of an ever-widening peace-circle around the country.
What it will also take is greater engagement by the international community and the rebels. The rebels, in many ways, were caught off guard by this peace movement. They were not trained or prepared; there is not your usual well-articulated rebel cause and no well-trained negotiators who are on top of the issues and who know how far to push, when to give and when to take - that's not the impression I get. So the international community first needs to really tutor, if you like, the rebels on what is power sharing, what is wealth sharing, what is possible, what is not possible.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] has already covered quite a lot of ground and nobody is about to review it in order to accommodate Darfur, because then you are opening a Pandora's box. Tomorrow the Beja [rebels in eastern Sudan] would also come on board and say, "review it". Where do you stop? So, nobody is reviewing the CPA. They need to be told that, and that this is the moment, this is the opportunity. If they are missing the train now, the train will leave the station. That kind of encouragement and dedication is necessary.
Of course, there is the need to continue to urge the Sudanese government to show restraint and to extend the spirit of reconciliation and the out-coming of the Sudanese nation, and weave it into one solid plot - it would be good to encourage them to do that.
Q: How much progress has been made in the Darfur peace negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria?
A: I must say the progress has been slow. When negotiations resumed on 10 June [in Abuja], the first item on the agenda was the adoption of the DoP - declaration of principles. The DoP had been with the parties that negotiated, that almost reached agreement on it, for nine months. So it is not a new process, it is not a new document. We expected that in a week or so, they would pick up the pieces from where they left, in January this year, and bring it up-to-date in terms of current realities like the fact that the CPA exists; so you align the DoP draft document negotiated last year to current realities on both sides.
But they dragged on and on for almost a month. New demands were raised by, I must say, the rebel movements. The government basically had no new demands or no new suggestions at all. They were prepared to sign the draft as it was. But the rebels raised all sorts of issues, and negotiating those then took time - but they are now signed. They signed at a very propitious time, around the inauguration of the new presidency, just after the NDA and the GoS agreement in Cairo, and on the eve of the AU summit in Sirte [Libya], where there were a lot of expressions of impatience with the pace of the negotiations. That signing of the DoP substantially represents very little, but psychologically, it represents a lot. We hope that when we resume on 24 August, a lot of groundwork will have been done on the rebels and on the government, for us to make rapid progress on the outstanding issues of power sharing, wealth sharing and security arrangements.
Q: During the last round of talks in Abuja, a group showed up claiming they were the true representatives of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). How well do the SLM/A [Sudan Liberation Movement/Army] and the JEM represent the people in Darfur?
A: The process so far has been between the signatories of the N'djamena Ceasefire Agreement of April 2004. It has always been part of the programme that at a certain point of the negotiations, you need to make it all-inclusive, so that all the armed and unarmed elements of Darfur, civil society, political movements, the sons of Darfur and all sorts of groups can be associated and can have collective ownership of the process. At the point of the DoP, we didn't think it was the time to widen the scope. That is why, in earlier rounds, when the NMRD [a splinter-group of the JEM] popped up, we didn't provide a place for them at the table. It is not to exclude them forever, but at that stage, no. When we resumed in June in Abuja, there was this group of Eng Mohamed Saleh who turned up, this time not as another group, but claiming authentic leadership of the JEM.
All these processes were foreseen, but at the appropriate time, everybody will be included and everybody will have ownership of the process. Right now, it is a negotiation between the parties to the N'djamena Ceasefire - I hope we can keep it that way. Unfortunately, we are now trying to restrict the participation of the parties.
There is an element of proliferation of observers and partners and facilitators, which makes cohesion a little difficult. At some point, one had the impression that what was going on in Abuja was more like an international conference on Darfur, rather than negotiations between Darfurians. We hope that that there will be greater discipline on the part of the international community as well when we resume in August.
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