The Sudanese government rejected a draft UN resolution on Thursday that called for a 17,000-member international security force to be deployed to Darfur. President Bush is sending a senior envoy to Khartoum to try to persuade the ruling party to accept the peacekeeping force. We speak with Smith College professor and Sudan expert, Eric Reeves. [includes rush transcript]
It has been three months since the signing of a peace deal between the Sudanese government and one of the three main rebel groups in the war-torn Darfur region. The deal was touted by the international community as a possible end to the three-year-old crisis, but since the deal was signed, violence in the region has in fact increased.
Yesterday the Sudanese government rejected a draft UN resolution which called for a 17,000-member international security force to be deployed to Darfur.
In response, President Bush on Thursday announced that a senior US official would visit Khartoum to pressure Sudan’s government to accept the joint US/UK force proposal. The government in Khartoum has long opposed the idea of a UN security force, depicting it as a front for Western imperialism.
- Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College who has devoted nearly a decade to research, analysis, and advocacy on the Darfur crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined in Massachusetts by Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College who has devoted nearly a decade to research, analysis and advocacy on the Darfur crisis. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
ERIC REEVES: Good to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this latest news and the reaction of the Sudanese government?
ERIC REEVES: There are many facets to Khartoum’s decision. It’s to date paid no real price for its obduracy, its refusal to abide by international norms, either in the North-South conflict, which nominally ended in January 2005, or in its genocidal conduct of war in Darfur. What I am hearing from my sources on the ground and what the Hedi Annabi, the head of U.N. peacekeeping, recently said in a report to the Security Council that I have seen, is that Khartoum is right now planning a massive military offensive in North Darfur, which has been the most violent of the three Darfur states.
If this offensive takes place, there will be massive, massive civilian destruction. I think we’re also likely to see a withdrawal of virtually all humanitarian workers. This will leave some 1.2 million people completely dependent on humanitarian aid, without any assistance whatsoever. By my own calculation, some 500,000 people have already died. As many more could die in the coming year if current trends continue.
Only with the deployment of an effective — and I emphasize effective — international force can genocidal destruction be brought to a halt. Khartoum gives no sign of capitulating on this, and I’ll be very interested to know what Jendayi Frazer, President Bush’s envoy to Khartoum, takes with her in the way of sticks and pressures to bring to bear on this recalcitrant regime.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, what has happened with the — there is supposedly an international peacekeeping force of African nations there. What has been the problem so far with their ability to carry out their mandate?
ERIC REEVES: First of all, we need to understand that the African Union force on the ground is a monitoring team, per the April 2004 ceasefire. The Darfur peace agreement of May, negotiated in Abuja, Nigeria, nominally gives them responsibilities for protecting civilians and a whole raft of other tasks. But this force is under-trained, undermanned, under-equipped, badly led, has no interoperability. These forces have never worked with one another. It was a force created from scratch from the African Union Peace and Security Council.
It’s the African Union’s first time out of the gate in a major peacekeeping operation, and they are far, far out of their league in Darfur. They have started to hunker down. They are conducting fewer patrols. They are, themselves, now under attack, because they are perceived as having sided with one of the Sudan Liberation Army factions, the one that signed the Abuja agreement. They are part of the problem now. They are very — they contribute very little to security in Darfur.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Reeves, on the issue of the peace deal that was signed in May, we spoke afterwards to representatives of two of Darfur’s three main rebel groups, Adam Mohammad El Nor was a representative of the Sudan Liberation Army, represented the faction that signed the most recent peace deal. And Abdullahi Eltom was one of the negotiators for Justice and Equality Movement at the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria in early May. His group did not sign the deal. I wanted to play for you a clip of that interview. I had asked both men to place the current peace deal in the context of the failure of the ceasefire agreement between northern and southern Sudan in 2004. This was the response of Abdullahi Eltom of JEM:
ABDULLAHI ELTOM: Why did the ceasefire fail of the first agreement you referred to 2004? It failed simply because this is essentially a political problem. You cannot ignore the political side and expect that by tampering with the security side that the problem will be over. That is the main problem. The government of Sudan, of course, continued violating the ceasefire throughout, but also some members of the rebel movement, and that is because the political side is not dealt with, and here we are moving into the same scenario. So, when I mentioned earlier that things have gone wrong, and it is — we are likely to go into a situation of a missed opportunity.
The American ambassador, in one of the last few, the last meetings of perhaps the 30th or 29th of April, came and declared that the security arrangement is within the national interest of the United States, but his government is not interested in the political issues and the wealth issues. So the focus has been also again been put on the security side, which is, of course, a fallacy, because we went into the negotiating settlement, because we realized that while there is no military solution for this problem, there is a political solution now.
AMY GOODMAN: Abdullahi Eltom of JEM. They rejected the peace accord. Your response to that, Professor Reeves?
ERIC REEVES: First of all, I think it’s important to recognize that JEM is not nearly so representative of the people of Darfur as the SLA, the Sudan Liberation Army movement. On the other hand, the comments we just heard are importantly accurate. The full-scale fighting that began in February 2003 in Darfur grew out of decades of political and economic marginalization, primarily in the last decade-and-a-half, of the people of non-Arab or African descent, non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur. Only a political solution and, finally, an economic solution, one in which the country’s oil wealth is distributed equitably throughout this vast country — it’s the size of the United States, east of the Mississippi.
But it is true, as well, that the Abuja agreement is very weak politically with respect to the needs of the people of Darfur and also its security arrangements are deeply compromised by the fact that there are no real guarantees and, most consequentially, no guarantors. The African Union is the only contemplated guarantor of the very complicated security arrangements. Every single benchmark, every single deadline contemplated in the Abuja agreement has been missed, and in place of a disarming of the Janjaweed, the brutal Arab militia forces that have served as Khartoum’s proxy, what we are seeing right now, as I mentioned earlier, is a massive military buildup by Khartoum that is intended to take on the non-signatory elements of the SLA.
This will inevitably have, as I said, massive consequences for civilians, both in direct civilian destruction and in the inevitable withdrawal of humanitarian workers, upon whom, in the greater humanitarian theater of Darfur as a whole, Eastern Chad, the U.N. estimates there are some four million conflict-affected persons. These people are increasingly desperately in need of humanitarian aid, so the collapse of humanitarian operations in North Darfur will be catastrophic.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk also about the role of China and its impact in terms of the United Nations’ ability to act on the situation in Sudan.
ERIC REEVES: This is the key question at the moment. China is a net importer of oil, was as of 1995. Its petroleum needs increase by approximately 10% to 15% a year. That’s a very, very large annual increase in the need for offshore oil. Sudan is China’s premier source offshore oil production, not its primary source of oil, but its primary offshore source of oil production. China dominates oil production in southern Sudan in both the two operating consortia. China will protect Sudan at the Security Council.
There will be no deployment of a UN force that is not consensual, if we are to believe Kofi Annan, the U.K. ambassador, even the U.S. And Khartoum, understanding perfectly well that there is no stomach for passing a non-consensual resolution, also knows that China will veto anything that it declares inappropriate or unwanted, and the news headlines in Khartoum are consistently — any United Nations Security Council member who votes for the U.S.-U.K. Resolution that follows very closely Kofi Annan’s proposal based on a detailed UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations assessment — Khartoum has threatened any nation that supports this resolution will be considered an enemy of the state of Sudan. China most definitely does not want to be considered an enemy of the state of Sudan. They will veto any resolution, and we come up against a very, very difficult problem. What will we do if the United Nations proves incapable of acting in the face of ongoing massive genocide?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, thank you, Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College.