ride for the UN peacekeepers in Darfur
Surviving in Sudan's volatile province where an estimated
300,000 people have already died since fighting began in 2003,
is a lottery - for everyone living or working there.
The stark contrast between the black ash grids that were once
villages and yellow semi-desert is the simplest illustration
of the tightrope that six million people here walk between
life and death. Almost half the population have fled the ongoing
mass killing and gang rape.
Two years ago and after protracted negotiations, UN peacekeepers
were sent to Darfur to bolster a beleaguered African Union
mission (AMIS) trying to address what was described as "history's
worst nightmare" by former UN Secretary-General Kofi
Increasing numbers of UNAMID troops - the hybrid UN-AU mission
in Darfur - struggle to protect civilians from the spiralling
conflict, which has been Darfur's grinding reality since fierce
fighting between the Sudanese government and rebel forces
broke out seven years ago. The Sudanese Liberation Army and
Justice and Equality Movement cited lack of power- and wealth-sharing
as the reason for their attack on Sudan's capital, Khartoum,
which ignited the conflict.
Deploying the 19,555 blue helmets into an area the size of
France 1,250 miles from the sea has been a logistical nightmare,
especially when the main road is no more than a track, one
of the principle runways is a gravel strip and the railway
a single line. Throw in the rainy season from July to October
that makes many of the roads impassable, temperatures that
exceed 50 degrees, and a deteriorating security situation
with frequent attacks against UNAMID, and sitreps detailing
death and destruction become common: ten people killed in
the space of three months, helicopters being repeatedly fired
on and car-jacking increasing exponentially with hundreds
of vehicles taken from non-governmental organisations and
the UN and sold on the black market or used for spares by
the warring factions.
The urban streets of North Darfur's state capital El Fasher
looked like Somalian capital Mogadishu before it collapsed
in the early 1990s. Young men wearing mirror-sunglasses brazenly
hung off the back of the pimped-up spoils of prolific car-jacking
wielding automatic machine guns. Armoured personnel carriers
barge their way around the narrow roads as a twitchy Sudanese
Army further entrenches itself. The ICC decision to issue
an arrest warrant for Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir heightened
the tension. Personnel, military and civilian, fear it could
ignite the lawless state that hovers dangerously on the brink
of anarchy because people confuse the identities of the UN
and ICC. Despite having nothing to do with The Hague, UNAMID
could rapidly become the focus of any resentment.
The small, isolated UNAMID bases scattered across Darfur,
which is five times the size of France, are often surrounded
by tens of thousands of desperate people taking refuge from
the carnage in the swelling camps for internally displaced
persons. These blue helmets remain vulnerable to attacks from
any of the men who rampage and slaughter with impunity. They
are already taking increasing numbers of casulties for just
being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Should they become
a pseudo-ICC target, the body count could reach the same levels
as seen in neighbouring DRC.
And it's difficult to tell who is committing the atrocities,
who is working with which group and who is pulling the strings.
Random clashes between the numerous indigenous ethnic groups
sparked by the centuries-old tradition of cattle-rustling
escalate into bloody battles between the rebels and government
forces. As the rebel groups splinter into rival factions,
alliances become blurred and can bear little relation to religion,
Arab or non-Arab. Most international workers witness the Sudanese
Government's daily bombing raids, claimed by the government
to be against the rebels but destroying many villages and
killing civilians in the process. But, aside from the Sudanese
government, only one of the many rebel factions has signed
the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement.
Few would question that those responsible for what are now
accepted as war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur
must be stopped and face justice. But those working in Sudan's
most broken state might have cause to question if the potential
fallout from ICC Chief Prosecutor's Luis Moreno-Ocampo relentless
pursuit of the president had been thoroughly thought through.
Front line humanitarian NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres
have already been ordered to leave Darfur along with the International
Committee for the Red Cross. Current terms only allow the
UN to remain in Sudan if President Bashir agrees to have an
international military presence on his sovereign soil.
Some might argue that the UN were onto a hiding to nothing
anyway - deploying almost 30,000 people into a vast semi-desert
with no infrastructure would be considered ambitious by even
Nato's standards. But if the arrest warrant turns into a death
warrant for UNAMID, the struggle to survive endured by the
Darfur people might have an unwanted grisly ending.
are courtesy of the UN