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Darfur Violence Intensifies as Deadline for Withdrawal of AU Peacekeepers Looms

StorySeptember 07, 2006
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The Sudanese government is increasing its attacks in Darfur as the African Union confirms it will withdraw peacekeeping troops by the end of the month. We speak with Alex de Waal, an advisor to the African Union and author of “Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.” [includes rush transcript]

A leading human rights group is accusing the Sudanese government of indiscriminately bombing villages in rebel-held regions of Darfur without regard for civilian lives.

Human Rights Watch said firsthand sources report flight crews rolling bombs out the back ramps of Sudanese military aircraft flying over civilian areas.

The Sudanese government recently launched a major offensive in Darfur believed to involve tens of thousands of troops backed by bomber aircraft and helicopter gunships.

The attacks come as the African Union confirmed its decision to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Sudan when their mandate expires at the end of September. The AU has said repeatedly that it wants to hand over its mission to the United Nations. The Security Council recently voted to authorize more than 20,000 troops and police officers for Darfur but the UN force was strongly rejected by the Sudanese government.

The AU brokered a peace accord in May, but it was signed by the government and only one of the three main rebel groups in Darfur. Since then, the violence has intensified.

Humanitarian groups say civilian casualties, rapes and looting have all grown more widespread. Meanwhile, aid workers have been forced to curtail efforts to distribute food and health care to the region amid increasing attacks.

Since 2003, as many as 400,000 people have died in the Darfur region and as many as three million people have been left homeless.

  • Alex De Waal, a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University and an advisor to the African Union. He is author of the book, “Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Alex de Waal. He’s in Boston, fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, advisor to the African Union, author of the book Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the latest situation in Darfur?

ALEX DE WAAL: The situation at the moment is really rather bleak. What’s happened is that in the months after the peace agreement was partially signed, which was four months ago in May, the — various efforts were made to try and get on the side the two rebel groups that were not signatories. Now, these efforts were really rather half-hearted. I was closely involved in one of them, and we really had very little backup, very little diplomatic clout and very little to offer those groups that were really still quite interested in signing up to the agreement.

And the failure to bring onboard those parties left Darfur in a very, very precarious situation. All the institutions that had been set up — the ceasefire commission, the peacekeeping forces — were all set up to monitor an agreement on the assumption that all parties had bought into it. And the situation then was untenable. There was an attempt to implement an agreement with only one of the three rebel groups, with one of the others still trying to get onboard and the other one mounting military action to try and undermine it. And the government, I think, did sign the peace agreement with some genuine attempt to try and settle the situation there.

But then what happened was, without any progress on that, it decided on the military option. It put forward a plan for disarming the Janjaweed militia and then took that off the table. It hasn’t done any disarmament of the Janjaweed. It was supposed not to reinforce its military forces in Darfur. It was actually supposed to withdraw them to garrisons several months ago. That didn’t happen.

And to the contrary, what’s happened is, it’s reinforced, it’s brought in more troops, and it has made essentially a military alliance with the one group, the Sudan Liberation Army of Minni Minawi, the one man who did sign up. And they have been launching joint attacks, supported by the air force, against the holdout rebel groups. And that has led to massive destruction, burning of villages, aerial bombardment and many, many more killings. And there seems no way actually at the moment of stopping this. The offensive is due to continue. I don’t believe there is a military solution. It will not defeat the holdout rebel groups. What it will do is, it will kill more people, create more hunger, create more displacement and make the situation even more intractable.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in retrospect, what might have been done differently when the negotiations were going on to incorporate the two groups that rejected the agreement and continue to fight?

ALEX DE WAAL: I think the key thing to bear in mind is that the solution to Darfur is a political solution. No solution can be imposed by any amount of arm twisting, any amount of bluster, any amount of military force. Even if we sent 100,000 NATO troops, we would not be able to impose a solution. The solution has to come through political negotiation. And that, unfortunately, is a very slow process.

The sides do not trust each other. There are a great deal of enmity and mistrust, and with good reason. They have been fighting each other, they’ve been killing each other. And while the government is responsible for the majority of the killings, the rebels are not angels either. They also have their own very, very serious problems of human rights abuse, and they have been fighting each other, too.

What was needed, I think, was more time, more time to enable the text that came out of the agreements to be truly owned by the parties, rather than a rather well-crafted agreement, but an agreement that was essentially imposed upon the parties. And had we had another few months, I think we would have certainly got a more inclusive deal. We could certainly have got one of the other two rebel factions. The Sudan Liberation Army, headed by Abdul Wahid Nur, which has the largest popular support in Darfur, that I believe would have signed up. And then we would be on a rather different track.

I think this thing was done in haste, and it was done in haste in part because there was a tremendous international impatience and impetus, which is quite understandable, to end the humanitarian suffering, to get troops on the ground, to bring an end to the abuses that occur every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex de Waal, we’re also joined on the line from Sudan by Suleiman Jamous, the former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army. He opposed the Darfur peace agreement. He was captured on May 20 by members of an SLA faction that signed the accord. He was held for a month before being released. He is speaking to us from Central Sudan. What do you think needs to happen right now, Suleiman Jamous?

SULEIMAN JAMOUS: [inaudible] civilians of Darfur. The only option that we should be [inaudible] out of Sudan is to monitor the peace of the civilians, because what I feel that at the same time they are implementing the agreement achieved by [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry, the line is too bad. We’re going to try to call you back. Suleiman Jamous, former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army. Alex de Waal, the United Nations’ relationship with the African Union, what is it? And what role do you think the U.S. should be playing now?

ALEX DE WAAL: The AU-UN0 relationship is really very good. The African Union has recognized that the forces that it has on the ground are too few, too poorly equipped, and don’t really have the mandate to be able to protect the civilian population. And the African Union Peace and Security Council, their equivalent for the African continent of the UN Security Council, has made a very clear resolution that because the AU force is not capable, a UN force should take over. And so, that is what they have insisted upon.

And it was on the basis of that resolution, that the UN Security Council resolution passed its Resolution 1706 about a week ago, demanding that the Sudan government allow in a force of 20,000. The Sudan government has obviously rejected that and has said to the African Union: You can stay, but only if you reverse that. So, the Sudan government is essentially saying to the African Union: Yes, you can stay, but only if you stay in your current, less-than-capable capacity.

Now, to me, this — clearly the Sudan government is in the wrong. Clearly the Sudan government needs to back down, needs to allow a capable force. But, in a way, what we’ve got ourselves into is a cul-de-sac, a dead end of posturing on both sides, which is not helping a resolution of the situation. The reality is that, however many troops we bring into Darfur, they are not going to be able to protect all those civilians. They’re not going to be able to assist in the disarmament of the Janjaweed unless there is a political solution on the table that everyone has signed up to.

And so, let us begin to get the politics, the politics of crafting a peace deal that actually involves everybody, that gets everybody around the table agreed on what the future of Darfur should look like. Let’s put that first, and then let’s put the international force that will be there for peacekeeping as an adjunct to that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But if the Sudanese government rejects any United Nations involvement, what recourse is left to the international community to be able to get the government to agree to some kind of ceasefire?

ALEX DE WAAL: Well, essentially what President Bashir of Sudan has done is he’s called the bluff of the UN and the US. The UN and the US have said: We want to send a force. And they’ve implied that if the Sudan government doesn’t agree, they will force it on them.

But what is the reality of this? Are we really going to send an army to Darfur to invade against the wishes of the Sudan government, to face the military resistance of the Sudan government and its militias? And the answer, frankly, is no. Are we going to be able to impose sanctions that are tough enough on the Sudan government, which has after all been under sanctions of one form or another for 17 years, that will make them comply? This is a country that is an oil exporter that has good relations with all its neighbors now, has good relations with China and Russia. The answer, frankly, again is no.

So, let’s recognize that posturing and wielding a bigger stick, frankly, is not going to work. The bluff of that has been called. Let’s get back to a discussion. Let’s get back to negotiating a political solution that starts with a ceasefire, that starts with saying: We can solve this problem, but we can solve this problem only with the consent of all. And the first step is the fighting must stop. And I personally am confident that this is the only way. It may be a long shot. Time is very short. We’re really very, very close to some deadlines, and if we pass those deadlines, if we pass the end of this month and the African Union forces withdraw, then we’re in a very, very dismal situation. But we do need to rescue this politically.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex De Waal, we want to thank you very much for joining us, fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, advisor to the African Union. His book is Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.

We’re sorry we couldn’t get Suleiman Jamous back on the line with us, former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army, speaking to us from Central Sudan.

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