The critical conditions that continue to prevail in Darfur are causing immense suffering to its people. Both sides of the conflict – the government of Sudan and its allied forces, as well as all the opposition groups in Darfur – must understand that civilians should no longer fall victim to their political disputes.
The Sudanese government’s consent to the deployment of the hybrid United Nations/African Union mission, which aims to keep peace in the region, is of course a welcome development. But the mandate of this mission must be strong enough to allow for full protection of the civilian population. Moreover, the force must have sufficient manpower, capacity, and funding to put this vital objective into practice efficiently. The countries and institutions that have committed additional funds in order to help secure the success of this mission – notably France, Spain, and the European Commission – should all be applauded.
It is important for international actors to assure Sudan’s government that the UN/AU mission will not strive for regime change in the country or otherwise exceed its peacekeeping mandate. At the same time, the Sudanese government must be fully aware that only by adhering to past commitments and by cooperating in helping to prepare, deploy, and maintain the mission will the international community be encouraged to continue its support.
As for the Darfur opposition, the recent efforts by some of its leaders to overcome fragmentation and re-unify their movement are a welcome development. It is essential that all major opposition groups achieve agreement about their aims and negotiating positions. Only then can they act as credible partners of the international community and the Sudanese government. All parties to the conflict must realize that, ultimately, there is no way to end their dispute other than through an equitable and sustainable peace agreement endorsed by all stakeholders. The return of internally displaced persons and due care for them must be a core component of any such arrangement.