Sunday, July 11, 2004

African Union: dealing with Darfur

The third African Union (AU) Summit was held July 6-8 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The following is the fifth of eight summit summaries.

In his opening speech at the AU Summit, UN Secreatary General Kofi Annan spoke of the "horrific situation in Darfur", warning those assembled that it was a "catastrophe that could destabilize the region."

On the last day of the Summit, Alpha Omar Konare, Chairperson of the AU Commission, told reporters that the AU has called on Sudan to stop bombing raids on Dafur.

The biggest news, however, came on the eve of the Summit, with the announcement that the AU's Peace and Security Council had authorized sending 300 armed troops, a protection force, to guard the ceasefire monitors who were deployed there a couple of months ago.

Then on the last day of the Summit came word that the protection force would also be protecting civilians.
Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, AU chairman, said the troops would not constitute a protection force if they "just stand and stare when life and property are being destroyed". (source)
Sudan is not happy about the protection force's expanded mandate.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said that "Sudan has no problem if you want to send protection forces, but it is protection forces to protect the monitors.

"The protection of civilians is the responsibility of the Sudanese government." (source)
And according the following Reuters story, it's not clear who/what has authorized the force's expanded role .
But the summit's triumph -- it will be the first foreign peace force on Sudanese soil -- was rapidly overshadowed by confusion about an effort backed enthusiastically by Senegal in the closing stages of the gathering to expand the troops' role.

The confidential wording of the protection force's current mandate stipulates that they protect only AU observers, Western and African officials in Addis Ababa say.

But AU chairman Olusegun Obasanjo and the AU's top civil servant, AU Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, both said after the summit closed on Thursday that the protection force could not stand idly by if they saw civilians being attacked.

[...] But some diplomats worry about the possibility of clashes between an AU force and troops of Sudan, a member state, which could provoke Khartoum into expelling all AU personnel and lead to the collapse of peace talks with Darfur rebel groups.

"The consequences of unilateral action -- imagine a Nigerian or Rwandan soldier shooting a Janjaweed (militiaman) or a state security man -- could be the immediate expulsion of the AU force," one diplomat said. (source)
More on the deployment of the protection force ... here.

UPDATE: Forgot to talk about the "g" word (genocide).

The Peace and Security Council, while authorizing the deployment of the 300 troops, also said that what is going on in Darfur doesn't constitute genocide. From the communiqué issued on July 4 ...
[...] even though the crisis in Darfur is grave, with the attendant loss of lives, human suffering and destructions of homes and infrastructure, the situation cannot be defined as a genocide. Council further notes that the crisis should be addressed with urgency to avoid further escalation ... (source)
As for the government of Sudan's reaction ...
"The decision showed quite clearly that there is no genocide. We are happy about it, although we admit that there is a desperate humanitarian need," Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told Reuters at an AU summit in Ethiopia. (source)
For more on what people are calling what's going on ... see this and this ...

Previous AU Summit summaries ....
  • African Union: dealing with the DRC
  • African Union: "the mercenary threat"
  • African Union: location, location, location
  • African Union: who pays?