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U.N. Envoy: Darfur Faces New Dangers Amid Chad Unrest

February 8, 2008 at 6:45 PM EDT
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U.N. special envoy to Darfur Jan Eliasson painted a bleak picture of the war-torn Sudanese region Friday, warning that rebel groups had made only limited progress toward peace talks. In an interview, Eliasson details the latest developments in Darfur and explains how unrest in neighboring Chad may further inflame the crisis.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, an update on Darfur, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s been out of the headlines of late, but the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan continues to rage.

The toll: at least 200,000 dead, and 2.5 million forced from their homes.

Five years of fighting has pitted local black villagers and rebel commanders against Sudanese government forces and their proxy fighters, the mostly Arab Janjaweed militias.

The victims have been primarily civilians, driven from their villages, then intimidated — and the women raped — whenever they venture outside their refugee camps. The U.S. has called the killings of civilians “genocide.”

The situation is now further complicated by a civil war in neighboring Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Darfurians are in refugee camps.

Today, the U.N. Security Council received an update from its special envoy for Darfur, veteran Swedish diplomat and former U.N. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson. He joins us from the U.N.

And, Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us.

JAN ELIASSON, U.N. Special Envoy to Darfur: Thank you for inviting me.

MARGARET WARNER: The update you presented today to the Security Council was pretty grim. You said at one point the situation is “veering out of control.” How so?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, we have made some progress in getting the movements to consolidate. There were maybe anywhere between 10 and 20 movements to deal with earlier. Now we have five groupings.

MARGARET WARNER: These are the rebels?

JAN ELIASSON: Of the rebels, right, of the movements, resistance movements. But now the latest development on the ground has led to a very deteriorating security situation. And, of course, the events in Chad are also complicating our work severely.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, today, there was, of course, this attack that seemed to follow the old pattern. It was in western Darfur on two towns. According to witnesses, you had the Sudanese government helicopters and the Janjaweed militias on the ground working together to drive these people out.

But in general, have those systematic atrocities continued at the same pace? Or are the deaths now more attributed to malnutrition and other conditions like that?

Tribal clashes

Jan Eliasson
U.N. Special Envoy, Darfur
The problems of today are tribal clashes. And the problem of today is the anger, frustration, and desperation in the camps, with two million people in the camps waiting to go back to their homes.

JAN ELIASSON: The mass killings of 2003 to 2005 are behind us. These matters have to be pursued in different other ways.

The problems of today are tribal clashes. And the problem of today is the anger, frustration, and desperation in the camps, with two million people in the camps waiting to go back to their homes, and, lastly, the fact that many of the villages are taken over by people who do not own this land.

So we have, I would say, great dangers ahead if we don't deal with the political issues and deal with the root causes.

But what is today's most troubling matter is the fact that you have not only the fighting in western Darfur that you just referred to, but you also have, ever since November, incursions across the border of Chad and Sudan, and that has a direct effect on the whole climate in this area.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how does the Chad, Sudan -- how do those tensions exacerbate the situation in Darfur? Explain that.

JAN ELIASSON: If you look at the borderline between Chad and Sudan, it's just one line. It's drawn up in Berlin, 1885. It doesn't take into account the fact that the tribal and ethnic lines go across those borders.

That means that the so-called Zaghawa tribe also has a great part of their population in Chad. And there have been competition and rivalry and negative developments in the relationship between Chad and Sudan.

And this means that you always -- you have had very destabilizing factor all the time at the borderline. And I have come to the conclusion, and so has Salim Salim, my co-negotiator from African Union, that you will not have peace in Darfur without a normalization between Chad and Sudan.

Political stalemate?

Jan Eliasson
U.N. Special Envoy, Darfur
If the people of Darfur see that the police come into the camps, if they see that their villages will have protection, then they will be able to return. Then they will see that the international community is on their side.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let's go back to the brief you've been carrying, which is to try to get a political agreement within Darfur. You said today the prospects for that look quite dim, at least in the near or medium term. Explain why.

JAN ELIASSON: We want to have the unity among the movements, perhaps in terms of -- not in terms of them unifying as organizations, but at least unifying on the positions for the talks and identifying a negotiation team.

Out of the five movements with whom we are dealing, two are ready to go, but three are in doubt, and one or two has very serious reservations about the process.

For them to come to the negotiation table without a unified position is, of course, very, very difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the U.N. last July had authorized a peacekeeping force of some 26,000, yet, by your own account, there are still only 9,000 on the ground. What is the hang-up there?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, I am very sorry to see that this deployment is so slow. There have been several difficulties, and we now have only, as you said, 9,000 and expect to have 20,000 soldiers, peacekeepers, deployed this year, plus, which is very important, 5,000 police.

We need those forces on the ground very soon. We want all the nations now to really use their influence to make sure that we get a quick deployment and that these peacekeepers are in place, because they also provide to the population of Darfur a sense of security.

If the people of Darfur see that the police come into the camps, if they see that their villages will have protection, then they will be able to return. Then they will see that the international community is on their side.

So for me and Salim Salim, to put it very simply, we are waiting as impatiently as many people in the rest of the world do.

MARGARET WARNER: So is the problem that the international community isn't contributing the forces and the equipment that's needed or that the Sudanese government won't let them in?

JAN ELIASSON: It's been a combination of two, of the different factors. One, that certain nationalities have not been accepted, and I feel that is very deplorable, since once you are part of a U.N. or African Union force, you should forget about nationality.

But, secondly, also, some powers, some countries have been reluctant in contributing, particularly we need aerial transport capacity. We need helicopters, and these have not come forward.

So it's a combination of different factors, plus, of course, to move so many people to Darfur with very little infrastructure, roads, and places to stay and the need for water, it's a very difficult exercise.

But we have to speed it up, because it's politically extremely significant and, from a human perspective, absolutely necessary.

Immediate peace needed

Jan Eliasson
U.N. Special Envoy, Darfur
All nations have to use their influence, and hopefully the governments themselves will draw the conclusion that it is in their enlightened self-interest to normalize relations.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you've laid out what all the problems are. What's the single most important thing that the U.N. should do right now if the parties aren't really ready to talk?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, I think we have to put the emphasis now on creating an environment, a climate which is conducive, which is positive for the talks. And that means we have to deal with this very, very difficult situation around Chad and Sudan.

I think all nations have to use their influence, and hopefully the governments themselves will draw the conclusion that it is in their enlightened self-interest to normalize relations. It's very damaging to both of them to have these ongoing incursions and hostility between Chad and Sudan.

Secondly, I think we need to have a cessation of hostilities immediately. What is going on now in western Darfur while we speak is horrible, and the situation can easily run out of control.

Once we then have the increasing deployment of peacekeepers on the ground, we can instill a sense of security among the population, a belief in the international presence and belief in the negotiations that we aim to start.

But I must admit it's a pretty dim picture now.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you going to stick with this?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, we will have to -- we have to do everything to bring about peace in Darfur. I was out there just three weeks ago. And normally I've seen the horrible conditions in the camps. That was bad enough.

But this time I went to areas which were under control of movements, and I was extremely depressed. You know, the women had to go two to three hours to get water, and it's typical it was the women who had to carry it.

The children had gray faces. And the school where I went, they had 12 or 13 books for the whole school, for 300 children. The market had only onions, no food that I could see. Horrible conditions, abject poverty.

And we have to understand that this peace is need for the development of Darfur. It has been a neglected province of the Sudan, and they have to get back on the road. They have gone through the most horrible nightmares.

And we have to, all of us, do everything we can to bring back normalcy and peace to the people of Darfur.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Jan Eliasson, thank you so much.

JAN ELIASSON: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Eliasson will take your questions about all of this in our online Insider Forum. To participate, just go to our Web site at PBS.org.