A fresh round of intense fighting has broken out in Sudan’s Darfur region between Government forces and rebels even as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire in a conflict that has killed at least 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million others from their homes.
The fighting was still raging today 24 hours after it erupted in Tabit, 45 kilometres south of El Fasher, North Darfur, between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minnawi movement (SLA-MM), which signed a peace accord with the Government in 2006, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported.
The army has prevented UNAMID peacekeepers from entering the area, citing security concerns. There are no indications as to any casualties or whether other movements might be involved.
In his latest report covering the past three months, Mr. Ban cites with satisfaction prospects for progress made in peace negotiations in Doha, capital of Qatar, and the decrease in inter-communal fighting in Darfur. However, he voices deep concern at the upsurge in fighting between the Government and SLA-MM and another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which has taken part in the Doha talks.
“The use of military force will not resolve the conflict; it will only prolong and increase the suffering of the people of Darfur,” he writes. “I call on the Government and the movements to recognize their responsibility to the people of Darfur, to ensure their forces on the ground desist from violence, and to show the political will necessary to reach an immediate ceasefire and an inclusive and comprehensive peace agreement.”
He notes that Sudan is “at a turning point in its history” after the independence referendum in South Sudan, which had fought a two-decade civil war with the Government. “Never has the time been so opportune to settle the conflict in Darfur,” he adds, calling on the international community to step up its engagement with the Government and other parties “in a cohesive and urgent manner” to reach peace.
The latest bout of fighting between the Government and SLA-MM, which erupted last month, has so far driven nearly 40,000 people from their homes.
UNAMID’s uniformed strength currently stands at nearly 17,470 troops out of an authorized total of 19,555, and its police component at 2,745 out of the 3,772 mandated, and Mr. Ban stresses that the mission is taking “significant steps to increase its effectiveness on the ground, including through a robust protection strategy and a more determined posture in the face of restrictions on freedom of movement.
“The mission will make every effort to move forward in spite of impediments to ensure that it can protect civilians, build confidence and open routes for the free movement of civilians and humanitarian actors,” he adds, calling for the increased deployment and visibility of its military component.
Listing four specific benchmarks on the road to peace, Mr. Ban notes that the first – progress towards a comprehensive political solution – suffered a setback with the renewed clashes between the Government and SLA-MM. At the same time, he cites progress towards agreement between other parties, with the Government and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) moving closer to an accord and JEM engagement in ceasefire negotiations.
On the second benchmark – UNAMID contributing to the restoration of a stable and secure environment throughout Darfur – he mentions “a degree of regression” due to fighting between the army and the movements, although there was a marked reduction in inter-communal clashes and a decrease in banditry.
As to the third benchmark – enhancement of the rule of law, governance and human rights protection as well as improving the efficiency of State institutions – Mr. Ban cites a slight increase in recorded human rights violations. UNAMID conducted human rights training sessions for Government police and corrections officers.
The fourth benchmark relates to stabilizing the humanitarian situation and facilitating access to populations in need of aid. Mr. Ban writes that there was neither progress nor regression, with progress affected by the clashes, Government reluctance to allow the mission and humanitarian agencies to access areas where military operations were under way, and banditry.
In general terms, the health and nutrition situation in most internally displaced persons camps remained unchanged and stable, but insecurity in southern Darfur caused the suspension or scaling down of humanitarian operations in some areas.
UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari today also called on the belligerents to remember that the conflict cannot be solved militarily and that peace can only be achieved through an inclusive political process, not through the use of force.