Peace in Darfur?

Saturday, May 6, 2006

YESTERDAY'S PEACE agreement between Sudan's government and Darfur's leading rebel commander creates a chance to end this century's first genocide. The agreement requires the demobilization of the government-backed Janjaweed death squads by October. It calls for protective buffer zones around camps for displaced people and corridors through which humanitarian aid can be delivered. And it promises the integration of 4,000 rebel fighters into the Sudanese army, while a further 4,000 will be helped to find peaceful occupations or given police jobs. If all these provisions are implemented, a conflict that has killed as many as 450,000 people could end. The African Union, which hosted the peace talks, deserves credit for this progress, as do the Bush administration and its European counterparts who helped to push the talks across the finish line.

The agreement has been signed by the largest and most vicious faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, which has attacked aid convoys and fellow rebels as well as government targets. But the smaller SLA faction needs to be brought into the deal, and it would be good to have the signature of the Justice and Equality Movement, another rebel group, though it has few fighters on the ground. The rebels know that their uprising has visited appalling suffering on their own people and that their attacks on humanitarian workers have harmed their legitimacy. Continuing the war is good neither for them nor for their followers.

Sudan's government also has more to do. It has signed a previous Darfur cease-fire and felt free to ignore it; it has concluded a peace deal with the southern rebels but is now reneging on commitments to draw down southern garrisons, share power meaningfully with rebel leaders, and settle disputes over provincial borders and the sharing of revenue from oil. There seems little chance that Sudan's government will implement this new deal faithfully unless it is forced to pay a price for failure. That means maintaining the threat of further sanctions. It should also include the possibility of punitive air strikes on government helicopters that attack civilians in violation of the peace deal.

The challenge for the African Union and the Bush administration is to get both sides to take the next step. The holdout rebel factions must come into the agreement; the government must drop its opposition to the deployment of an expanded foreign peacekeeping deployment organized under the umbrella of the United Nations. There is no way that the envisaged return of civilians to their villages can happen if there's no guarantee of protection from further violence, and that guarantee can't come from Sudan's own security forces, as these have backed the genocide. Sudan's government has protested that a U.N. deployment would violate its sovereignty, but it has accepted U.N. troops in its south. If it wants the world to take its peace promises seriously, Sudan must declare Darfur open to a U.N. peacekeeping force.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company