Sudan’s division echoes in war-ravaged Darfur


For many in Sudan’s war-battered Darfur region, the division of the country on Saturday will not be a cause for celebration.

Southerners see secession as the end of a long march towards freedom, but in Darfur, which borders the South, it means the chance of more fighting between the government and rebels, as well as complications for issues like migration and cross-border animal grazing.
“We don’t know what will happen next. There are dangers at every turn,” Hussein Joma, 42, a community leader in the Kerinding camp near the Chadian border, said as women in bright shawls and men in dust-stained shirts and trousers filled plastic cans from a water pump.
“If there is war with the secession, it could affect the living conditions here, the economy — the country as a whole. War increases prices and divisions between people.”

War broke out in Darfur in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Khartoum, complaining the central government had left them out of the economic and political power structure and was favouring local Arab tribes.

Eight years later, hundreds of thousands of people who fled the fighting still live in vast, dusty camps like Kerinding, many in stick and mud huts reinforced with canvas from food aid delivery bags.

The persistent volatility of the situation is evident. An Ethiopian peacekeeping soldier was shot dead on the road between the nearby town of El Geneina and the airport a day after a rare visit by foreign journalists last week.

Though down from its peak, violence has surged since December, forcing tens of thousands more to flee. Qatar-brokered peace talks have meant little on the ground as Darfur’s main rebel groups pulled out or refused to participate.

The war has claimed 300,000 lives, the United Nations says, and complicated Khartoum’s foreign ties after the International Criminal Court indicted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000, and refuses to recognise the court.
“I don’t think that Doha is going to bring a lasting peace, so the grievances of Darfur are going to persist,” Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group said. “The problems of Darfur are actually the problems of Sudan manifested in Darfur.”

The war in Darfur — a region of seasonal waterways, jutting cliffs and long stretches of desert dotted with trees — is testament to the diversity and complexity of Sudan’s many, often overlapping conflicts.

The country’s rebels span an array of ethnic and tribal loyalties and territories, but are united in their opposition to a central government they say has concentrated wealth and power in the hands of an exclusive class in the north.

Echoing those complaints, the south fought a long and bloody civil war with the north, ending with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede in a January referendum promised in that pact.

But no deal has so far succeeded in putting an end to the war in Darfur, where rebels say their demands have not been addressed and the government has gradually reasserted control over major towns and other formerly rebel-held areas.

Some analysts say the secession could now harden anti-government fighters’ resolve as they see southerners attain their goal of independence and as Khartoum is economically weakened by the loss of the south’s oil fields.
“In Darfur we may be seeing the reconsolidation of opposition movements which would mirror the reconsolidation of southern opposition groups before the CPA,” Roger Middleton, a researcher at the Chatham House think tank, said.

Other analysts say the newly independent south could be tempted to back a continued insurgency in Darfur, with which they have shared some ideological and political links.

The northern government says it will not allow other regions to separate. In El Geneina, capital of West Darfur state, deputy governor Abou el-Qassim Baraka rejected suggestions the south’s separation could inflame further conflict in Darfur.
“In Darfur, we are tired of war. There is no going back to war, that is the opinion of the entire community,” he said.

A move by Khartoum to split the region into five states outraged rebels this year who said it was an effort to dilute their influence, echoing the region’s division into three states in the early 1990s that stoked tensions with Khartoum.

Darfur was an independent sultanate for hundreds of years.

But for now analysts say government troops have the upper hand over insurgents, cutting off some of their previous supply routes and pushing them from several central areas.

As the fighting drags on, the camps that started as temporary shelter for people who fled are becoming increasingly more like permanent settlements. Some aid workers say they may soon come to resemble towns.
“I’m old and I’m not well. I need to stay here,” one elderly man at Kerinding said as donkeys wandered down the red dirt path behind him and peacekeepers stood watch over the area.

Joma, the tribal sheikh, said the fear of bandits and local Arab tribes still kept many in Kerinding too afraid to attempt a return home.
“If there was peace, if their villages were secure, people would return, of course,” he said. “But maybe a kilometre outside of here, the troubles start.”