Days after the UN and African Union condemned as unacceptable the bombings of villages and markets in Darfur by Sudanese government planes, at least 13 people were reported killed in an attack on a primary school and market in North Darfur state.
The 3-4 May bombing of the school in Shegeg Karo by Antonov planes occurred while classes were in session, according to a statement from Darfur Diaries, an NGO that funds the educational centre.
Gen Martin Luther Agwai, commander of the UN-AU force in Darfur (UNAMID), on 2 May condemned bombings in Umm Sidir, Ein Bassar and Shegeg Karo. The attacks, he said, had compounded the extent of displacement, insecurity and untold human suffering.
The UN said the targeted areas were controlled by the Sudan Liberation Army, which have witnessed "repeated aerial attacks and possible fighting between government and rebel forces during the course of the last few days".
The latest violence casts doubt on the viability of the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed two years ago after the final round of negotiations between rebel factions and the Sudanese government.
The DPA provides for disarmament and a framework for wealth- and power-sharing. It awarded rebel signatories the fourth-highest office in government and created buffer zones around internally displaced persons and humanitarian assistance corridors.
At the last minute, however, only one of the three rebel groups then in existence signed the Abuja accord.
"[The DPA] did not make any positive difference in terms of peace and stability and security in the Darfur region, and many would argue that in some ways the DPA made things worse," Laurie Nathan, a member of the AU mediation team in Abuja, Nigeria, told IRIN.
Photo: Derk Segaar/IRIN
|Civilians have suffered greatly in Darfur with many displaced from their homes|
"Among other things, [the DPA] led to a fragmentation of the rebel movements," he said, referring to the fracturing of the three main groups into more than 28 separate factions, all vying for the status of negotiating partner.
Nathan also said the failure of the DPA "made some of the rebel groups mistrustful of peace negotiations".
In an effort to revitalise the peace process, the UN and AU appointed Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim as special envoys in December 2006. However, the rebels have yet to come to the negotiating table - only seven groups attended the latest negotiations in Sirte, Libya, in October 2007.
"There is no question that [the current mediation team] have understood the great and terrible need for patience; that simply writing an agreement for the parties, when the parties are not committed to the agreement, will get us absolutely nowhere," said Nathan.
Sources from the negotiating team said both Eliasson and Salim were engaging in shuttle diplomacy to break the mistrust among rebel groups.
Theodore Murphy, a Darfur expert at the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue mediation group, told IRIN that "in some sense, this is a step backwards, but it is a step forward in that it can break down the barriers between the groups right now".
After this is accomplished, he said, "they might accept to sit and talk with one another".
|Rodolphe Adada, UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur|
Civil society and Arab groups, who were largely ignored during the first peace process, have been incorporated into current negotiations to encourage wider involvement in the process.
"This sector of Darfurians has no other option but to fight for its rights peacefully," Hasan Isan Hasan, who represented civil society at the Sirte negotiations, said. "The people of Darfur support the negotiations and will continue to, just because ... there is no other way for sustainable peace.
Role of UNAMID
The status of the DPA, however, remains unclear. While rebel groups have continued to reject it, the government maintains any future negotiations should be built within the framework of the original agreement.
Abdel Wahid Mohammed al-Nur, the influential exiled leader of the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Abdel Wahid, refused to take part in the latest negotiations in Sirte. He cited insecurity in Darfur and lack of complete deployment of the hybrid peacekeeping operation for the boycott.
UNAMID took over operations from the AU peacekeeping force on 1 January and will have a projected strength of 26,000 personnel.
According to Rodolphe Adada, the UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur, current deployment of UNAMID stands at only 40 percent, and the force is unlikely to be fully deployed until 2009.
|UNAMID is a peacekeeping mission...and peacekeepers need a peace to keep|
It has been delayed by lack of logistics, including transport and attack helicopters, and disagreements with the government over the composition of the force.
"UNAMID is a peacekeeping mission," Adada said, "and peacekeepers need a peace to keep."
Earlier, Ahmed Salim had said: "If UNAMID can be in a position to be fully deployed, be properly equipped and be able to function with the cooperation of the parties, it will have a major effect in finding a negotiable solution to the crisis."
Echoing similar sentiments, Eliasson added: "There is a very concrete function to increased UNAMID presence in Darfur, and that is the monitoring and verification of the cessation of hostilities agreement that we hope will be part of the beginning of the talks."