Friday, March 10, 2006

This Week in Sudan 3/10/2006

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council met today to decide whether or not the AU would ask the United Nations to take over primary responsibility for peacekeeping in Darfur. The end result was unfortunately not a positive one, with the AU agreeing to Sudan’s demand that they not allow a transfer to a UN force until a peace agreement is reached. The peace talks, currently in their seventh round in the Nigerian capitol of Abuja, have not seen much progress over the last year, although the AU’s decision will hopefully refocus international attention on the urgent need for a more productive peace process.

One must wonder, however, whether Sudan will agree to any meaningful terms for peace, given that to do so would invite the UN to deploy a force in Darfur, something that they have adamantly opposed. That opposition was seen earlier this week in the form of a Sudanese government-incited demonstration in Khartoum, where an estimated 30,000 people gathered in the streets and chanted anti-western slogans such as “Down, Down, USA” and “Darfur will be the grave of the conquerors” in an attempt to weaken international resolve in advance of today’s AU meeting.

The AU’s decision came despite a last minute effort by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who spent most of the week abroad meeting with African and European leaders. While it remains unclear how the Bush Administration will respond, Congress is poised to take the necessary first step of providing increased funds for AU peacekeepers in Darfur by way of an expected amendment to the FY06 supplemental appropriations bill when it come to the House floor next week. Despite the disappointment with the AU’s decision, the 7,000 AU peacekeepers remain the only line of defense for millions of Darfuri men, women, and children, and must be supported.

Elsewhere in Congress this week, the House International Relations Committee passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, setting the stage for passage by the full House and then a possible conference with the Senate before it goes to the President for signature. The bill authorizes additional U.S. aid to the African Union and calls for a U.S. special envoy to help speed up the Darfur peace process, among other provisions.

The situation on the ground in Darfur and in neighboring Chad, meanwhile, continues to worsen by the day. The United Nation’s refugee assistance agency, UNHCR, announced Thursday that it was cutting its budget for Darfur by 44%, citing an inability to deliver humanitarian aid due to security concerns.