NAIROBI: One of my final pieces from Darfur ran in The Irish Times this morning. Their website is for subscribers only so I can’t reproduce the whole thing here. It tries to match diplomatic developments – talks in Tripoli and plans for the hybrid force – with what’s happening on the ground. In short, it paints a fairly bleak picture.
In the rebel village of En Siro I met commanders from Abdulwahid’s SLA. They told me there was no way he would be going to talks in Tripoli. Not only has Libya sided with Khartoum, and supported Arabisation of Darfur in the past, but Commander Ibrahim Abdullah Al “Hello” also told me that there could be no peace talks without greater security on the ground. On the day we met, his village had watched petrified as a government Antonov flew overhead. Days earlier an Antonov had bombed Birmaza, another rebel stronghold.
He also told me that numbers of Janjaweed were increasing in his part of northern Darfur. He claimed weapons and vehicles had been arriving from Khartoum in what appeared to be preparations for a big push. I couldn’t verify these claims, but the point is simple: Commanders like Ibrahim will not be ready to talk peace until the 26,000-strong hybrid UN and AU force is on the ground and improving security in Darfur.
All of which gives the men charged with delivering security something of a headache. In Kutum, I met Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Van Neel, the South African sector commander with responsibility for the northern-most part of Darfur. Speaking before the rebel attack on his comrades in Haskanita, he said security had improved in the past six months but had just started to worsen once more.
But his concern is that many IDPs and rebel groups have unrealistic expectations of the hybrid’s make-up and ability to impose order.
“We sincerely hope that those expectations will be met,” he said. “If they are not then we have probably an even bigger problem than now. At the end of the day I will be changing my green beret for a blue beret. It will be a lot of the same people on the ground so I am trying to engage with some of the locals here so that they understand what is happening.”
In other words, the hybrid force will contain many of the same discredited AU soldiers who have failed to bring peace to Darfur in the past three years. Once they are wearing their new blue hats there will have to be a rapid impact, otherwise any goodwill will run out very quickly and the hybrid could become the same sort of target that the AU was in Haskanita at the weekend.