TOPICS > Politics

Darfur Deal Faces Uncertain Future

May 12, 2006 at 6:50 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Now, our update on efforts to secure the shaky peace accord reached last week for the Darfur section of Sudan. Margaret Warner has been in Sudan for a week and reports tonight from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

MARGARET WARNER: In Khartoum’s corridors of power, the talk this week has been about Darfur. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party has been conferring for days over the agreement the government signed in Nigeria one week ago to bring peace for its strife-torn western region.

The man who negotiated and signed that agreement on behalf of the Sudan government is presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa Ahmed. Between briefings with his colleagues, he told the NewsHour he’s confident the deal will hold. Though two of Darfur’s three main rebel factions refused to sign, what’s important, he says, is that the most heavily armed faction is on board.

MAJZOUB AL-KHALIFA, Presidential Adviser: The main groups signed this agreement. They will be in control over the security situation in Darfur. The threats of violence will come to an end over a period in a very short time.

MARGARET WARNER: The deal has been called the last, best hope for peace in Darfur, a region the size of France where more than 200,000 people have been killed and two million displaced in three years of violence.

The agreement offers Darfur’s rebels more involvement in governing their region and calls for their forces to stand down, be disarmed, and some integrated into the Sudanese army.

But most important to the refugees, the deal commits the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia, government-backed marauders on horseback who continued to murder, rape and terrorize villagers even during the peace talks.

In the Sudanese capital, the government still denies any association with those militia.

MAJZOUB AL-KHALIFA: We are making peace on the side. And to make violence, killing, rape and that, and directed by the government? What a government can do that. Nothing of that at all. But there is a crisis in Darfur that is true, but there is a tribal conflict.

MARGARET WARNER: Earlier this week, recent arrivals at a refugee camp in south Darfur told us of coordinated attacks mounted jointly by the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed.

In Darfur, just three days ago, I interviewed some women who had just been driven from a village two weeks ago, and they said that the attack was coordinated. They were government of Sudan forces and Janjaweed militias.

Those stories have been repeated over and over. Are you saying those are just lies?

MAJZOUB AL-KHALIFA: What I can say is that there is no at all an official coordination between the government of Sudan force and the Janjaweed or other outlawed militia.

MARGARET WARNER: In any event, Majzoub says, the government will hold up its end of the deal by disarming the Janjaweed militia.

If there are renegade tribes, or militias, or Janjaweed who do violate this and who do want to continue marauding around the countryside, will the government of Sudan take them on?

MAJZOUB AL-KHALIFA: The government is committed to address this seriously, according to the law, and to disarm them, and to bring them to justice. This is our sovereignty, and this is our responsibility. We’re not going to hesitate at all.

Life in the refugee camps

Hassan Al-Turabi
Popular National Congress
If there were negotiations going along, people can hold their arms for a while. But if they know that the negotiations are over... there will be an eruption somewhere.

MARGARET WARNER: In the refugee camps, we found little evidence that residents have any faith in the promises made by the Sudanese government. Indeed, many refugees, even one listening to short-wave radio, were unaware that a peace deal had been reached.

SUDANESE CITIZEN (through translator): I don't know anything about it, nothing about it at all.

MARGARET WARNER: There are also real questions about whether the deal can be enforced on the rebels' side. The non-signers have been given until Monday to join up. And the leader of the larger holdout group is now saying he might, if he gets additional assurances in a side agreement.

But Hassan al-Turabi, a leading Islamist with influence over the other holdout groups, predicts, whether they sign or not, the deal won't stick. Turabi was once a key insider in the Sudanese regime and invited Osama bin Laden to live here in the early 1990s. Today, he's in opposition, after falling out with his former colleagues in government.

Do you think this peace deal is going to take hold?

HASSAN AL-TURABI, Leader, Popular National Congress: I don't think so. All the national political forces here, the national political forces, I mean, who are in opposition, with who have governed Sudan for all time, the modern sector and the traditional sector, they are against it, here in the center. And then, in Darfur, the Arab-speaking part of Darfur and the majority of the resistance movement is against it; I don't think it would hold.

MARGARET WARNER: So the fighting will continue?

HASSAN AL-TURABI: It may erupt again.

MARGARET WARNER: But I'm not sure it ever stopped.

HASSAN AL-TURABI: I mean, if there were negotiations going along, people can hold their arms for a while. But if they know that the negotiations are over, this is the settlement, the settlement is not satisfactory, there will be an eruption somewhere.

MARGARET WARNER: The possibility of that violent eruption worries many of the architects of the Darfur peace agreement.

CAMERON HUME, U.S. Charge D'Affaires: Chaos and anarchy. It's a matter, I'd say, of definition. Don't respond well to command decisions.

MARGARET WARNER: Cameron Hume is the top U.S. diplomat in Sudan and just returned from the peace talks in Nigeria.

CAMERON HUME: There is a large element of chaos and anarchy. And so coming to an agreement can restrain the people who are under control of those who made the agreement. But to the extent it's chaos and anarchy -- and anyone who's seen the pictures of those camps in Darfur, that's not order. That's really a sign of consequence of disorder.

So we'll still have to deal with that chaos and anarchy, whether it comes in the form of pestilence, or starvation, or just a disintegration of a very fragile society.

Sudan's volatile past

African Union Troops

MARGARET WARNER: The fragility of Sudanese society in general is on open display, even in the capital itself. The regime here came to power in a coup 17 years ago and reinforces its autocratic rule with an extensive security apparatus and legions of informants.

While filming this week, we've been continuously stopped by plainclothes agents. And on one occasion, we were even briefly detained.

After more than 20 years of war in the south and in Darfur, and with the vast majority of its citizens impoverished, it is a continuing struggle for the military rulers here just to hold Sudan together. And Washington's man in Khartoum believes the same Sudanese leaders whom the U.S. accuses of orchestrating genocide in Darfur now seek to restore their international standing by embracing peace.

CAMERON HUME: I have a very strong feeling that, like most people, the leaders of the Sudanese government would rather be subject to less opprobrium and to be better accepted in the world.

President Bashir was not made the head of the African Union a few months ago because of concern among African countries over the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Darfur. And I think that kind of a setback has been troubling to this government, and they would rather not be the polecats of the world.

MARGARET WARNER: There's a final reason why the government here may now want peace: As one of Africa's largest oil producers, Sudan is now beginning to benefit from the rising price of oil. And some here believe the Sudanese government now wants to focus on the economy, without the worry of facing broad international sanctions over Darfur.

Amin Abdellatif is the foreign news editor of an independent newspaper here called Alwan. He faults the government for inflaming the Darfur conflict but now thinks it's serious about enforcing the peace deal.

AMIN ABDELLATIF, Foreign News Editor, Alwan: Yes, absolutely. I have no doubt about that. The government is really genuine towards achieving peace, because it's enough, I mean, 50 years of fighting. This is time for development, for advancing, and I do believe that the Sudanese have the right to develop, and to flourish, and to live a luxurious life.

MARGARET WARNER: But for all that to happen, there is another piece of the puzzle that has to fall into place. At the moment, the only international forces in Darfur wear the green helmets of the African Union.

There are just 7,000 of them. They've been vastly outmanned and outgunned and operate under a restrictive mandate when it comes to using force. The peace agreement envisions their eventual replacement by a United Nations peacekeeping force, an idea Sudan's government said it would consider once the peace deal was signed.

But now, the man who signed it says the blue helmets of the U.N. have no business in Darfur. Their presence, he says, would reek of colonialism and threaten the sovereignty of Sudan.

MAJZOUB AL-KHALIFA: It sends a lot of messages, cultural messages, moral messages, military messages, economical messages. You don't know the depths. You don't know the depths, actually, of the reactions now going on the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: Some of his colleagues, including Sudan's foreign minister, have indicated more willingness to welcome U.N. troops to Darfur.

Just getting the parties to the table was a monumental diplomatic task; getting them to make good on their commitments and trying to ensure that the agreement is not unraveled by those who rejected it will be the next act in the tragic drama of Darfur.

Update from Khartoum

Margaret Warner
Anyone who's really looked at the situation out there feels that to have excluded the most populous tribe from the peace agreement just is a recipe for instability.

RAY SUAREZ: And joining us now from Sudan is Margaret Warner.

Margaret, welcome.


RAY SUAREZ: As you've reported, there are still armed antigovernment groups standing outside this latest peace deal. What are the chances that they're going to sign up now?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ray, one of the groups, called JEM, is an Islamist group that always said they'll never sign a deal, so that's off the table.

But the other large group, which is lead by a fellow named Abdel Wahid Nur, even though it is not a heavily armed group -- and so, militarily, it's not hugely important -- the party's want him to sign on because he represents the largest tribe in Darfur, the Fur tribe. That's what Darfur means: Land of the Four.

And they are by far the most populous group. And anyone who's really looked at the situation out there feels that to have excluded the most populous tribe from the peace agreement just is a recipe for instability.

So Mr. Nur is down, apparently still in Nigeria, I'm told. The president of Nigeria is leaning on him very, very hard. He got this letter from President Bush saying: You know, I'll really be watching the implementation. I'll make sure it's implemented right.

He was apparently complaining about the letter. There wasn't enough. And someone told me today that -- Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, said: I don't even get a letter from President Bush. You got a letter, and you still got questions?

But Nur apparently wants more assurances. So what's under discussion now is having the African Union, which has been mediating the deal, come up with yet another letter that has some assurances. But the parties are not willing to change the terms.

So I don't think we'll know -- I mean, we may know this weekend -- but Monday is D-Day. He's been invited to come to this big event in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia if he's ready or if he has signed the deal.

RAY SUAREZ: The leader of the largest single rebel army has signed the agreement. Does that take a significant step toward being able to at least stop the fighting?

MARGARET WARNER: Oh, it's a huge step, Ray, because, as you said, that faction militarily -- it's a different tribe. I thought I'd never learn these tribes, but it's the Zaghawa tribe, and they are really the fighters. So having them stand down, if they do stand down, will mean a great deal.

But not having the other major -- the Fur tribes sign is also causing some of the Arab tribes, the Arab militias, the Janjaweed, to say -- I mean, they held a meeting here in Khartoum this week, two days ago, and some of them said, "We're not going to go for this deal. Why should we disarm when one of the largest opposition group isn't signing?"

So having that missing piece, at least that one other group sign, is very, very important.

Disarming the janjaweed

Man with a gun in Darfur

RAY SUAREZ: All along, the Sudanese government has maintained that it is not supporting the Janjaweed. Now that this peace deal has been signed, does the government in Khartoum admit to having some influence over their activities?

MARGARET WARNER: I think every group that's looked at this -- and human rights groups, the United Nations, the United States -- says this government took this Janjaweed militia, who are kind of -- some have described them as kind of the ne'er-do-well sons of the Arab tribes -- armed them heavily, gave them complete license to go after the farmers, the black African farmers, villagers in the region, and they really uncorked a horrible genie.

I mean, they're bandits, they're highwaymen, whatever phrase you want to call. So there is a question about -- I mean, the government may have to use military assets against the very Janjaweed militias that many of these refugees say they've worked in concert with.

But that's what they've agreed to take on. And, as you, I think, saw in the piece, the man who negotiated the deal for the Sudanese government says, if it comes to that, if they have to do it by force, they will.

What some of the spokesmen for the Arab tribes said, after the meeting here in Khartoum, according to people who talked to them, was that they're very resentful of the government.

They say: You know, when they needed us to put down this rebellion out in Darfur, they armed us and they used us. And now they're cutting us loose. We get nothing out of this deal; we don't get a role in the government; we don't get, you know, extra money, or roads, or clinics, or schools.

So there's a lot of friction now, at least on a political level, between the Janjaweed, and not just the Janjaweed, but all the Arab militias, and the government.

RAY SUAREZ: What about the ordinary Sudanese man and woman on the street? What do the ones that you've talked to say about the prospect of peace? And are they willing to have the U.N. come in?

MARGARET WARNER: First of all, the Sudanese are individually incredibly warm, open, talk to you about just about anything. Most of them speak English, or a great many do, so it's very easy to have conversations.

On politics, they've learned not to speak publicly. And that is because, as I mentioned in the piece, I mean, there are really informants everywhere. It reminds me of the old Soviet Union.

So when we've talked to people in cafes or whatever, that's the one topic they don't want to touch. They say, "Oh, well, we don't know a lot about it." And, in fact, Darfur has not been on local television here at all, but many of them see it on Al-Jazeera and other satellite stations.

However, I was thinking of a young woman I talked to yesterday who's a lawyer. When I asked her about the U.N. force prospect, she did have an opinion.

And she said, you know, we Sudanese can take care of our own problems. The governors out there know the problems. They know the terrain, the African Union does. These foreign troops wouldn't know what they were doing. They'll just cause more trouble.

And she concluded by saying: You know, I think foreigners ought to go take care of the problems in their own country, not come to Sudan.

Now, there are already U.N. Troops in southern Sudan enforcing a completely separate agreement, as you know, the North-South deal, so the government, I think, could probably sell it publicly, but there is a certain holdover from colonial days, a certain almost -- one American diplomat said it's somewhat xenophobic about the prospect of foreign troops on yet another big piece of Sudanese soil.

RAY SUAREZ: Our own Margaret Warner in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Good to talk to you, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Great talking to you, Ray.