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For the last four years Darfur has experienced horror of biblical proportions. Considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations, it has been has classified as genocide by the US. More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been made refuges in Somalia and neighbouring Chad. Some 80% of them are women and children, who face constant murder, rape and destruction. Numerous attempts at ceasefires and peace agreements have failed. Far from being a straightforward Arab/African dispute it is the "Rubik's cube "of world conflicts, with a multitude of tribal and clan interactions, alliances and antagonisms. To try to put this in comprehensible terms, we will look first at its origins, then at the national and international players and finally the perspectives for the future.


Most well known are the vicious Arab Janjaweed militias, who are responsible for the majority of atrocities. But the dispute doesn't find its real origins in them. The roots of the conflict are to be found in the deep economic, social and political inequalities, which have long existed between the predominantly Arab north and the mostly African south. The conflict really began back in 2003 when black African south Sudanese insurgents attacked the interests of the northern-based government, demanding greater equality. In this large country of 39 million people, the southern population have always been racially excluded from a fair share in the country's economic wealth and political decision-making. On top of which the predominantly Christian black Africans have been the victims of religious discrimination by the Muslim north and subjected to strict Shira laws. 


The original rebellion started out as a highly successful attack on the North by the SPLA/M (Sudanese People's Liberation Army/Movement made of three key black African tribes – the biggest the Fur and the Zaghawa and Massalit. The JEM faction (Justice and Equality Movement) is made up of mostly Zaghawa. The government in Khartoum marshaled the Arab tribes of Darfur to counter-attack (the so-called Janjaweed), who are mostly without any land rights, promising them the opportunity to seize African tribal lands.


A year later the SPLM entered into agreements with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and since then the rebels became known as the Sudanese Liberation Army, which to complicate issues further has since splintered into different factions. The JEM has evolved into an important player, especially as it has been supported by the neighboring Chad government, which is dominated also by the Zaghawa tribe.


Both the failure of the implementation of the UN resolution 1706 to authorize African Union and UN peacekeepers into the country and the dead letter of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement have left a political vacuum in the region. Although a formal military alliance exists, this has not been helped by the splits over programme and tribal lines in the southern rebel groups - the SLA wanting displacement compensation and places in government and the JEM arguing for autonomy and a federal structure to the country. Consequently, actually getting real negotiations going has proved unworkable. Whether it is still possible to hold Sudan together as one unitary country now seems increasingly untenable. To make matters worse, the conflict has become more and more a proxy war between Chad and Sudan, as well as interference from other neighboring states.


Since the failure of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement the security situation has worsened. Apart from arming the Janjaweed with heavy armaments, the northern government has been using bombers and helicopter gun ships. Yet it has still failed to oust the rebels and the rebels in turn have not been able to take garrison towns. Worse still inter-tribal violence has been increasing, including between Arab tribes in the south, not all of whom support the northern government or the Janjaweed. Among the black rebels, further splitting takes place and warlord gangs often rob and kill their own population, making it difficult to know enemy from foe.  This mayhem has led to the deaths and evacuation of humanitarian aid workers, making the plight of refugees caught up in the battles even worse. 


The NCP government, despite participating and agreeing to peace deals, in effect makes no effort to implement them. Indeed, it desires to maintain the present hell out of fear that it might loose the national elections in 2009 to an alliance of northern opposition parties with those of the south, as well as being afraid of being held to account by the International Criminal Court. As a result it attempts to divide and rule the south by whipping up tribal conflicts, continuing an unwinnable war regardless of the suffering of the people and playing a two-faced dance with international efforts at peace agreements and international peace keeping deployment.


The Arab tribes however are not monolithically behind the Khartoum government or part of the Janjaweed; the very large Baggara tribes have stayed aloof from the conflict and some have even collaborated with the African rebels and in 2006 the Popular Forces Army (PFA) was formed that has attacked government targets.


The opposite pro-government Arab militias come under the umbrella of the "Arab Gathering," whose leaders make up the Arab elite. Its links extend far afield to Arabs across the Sahel region, including Arab brethren in Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso. It is in alliance with the NCP government in as much as its objectives for the seizure of African lands helps the divide and rule tactics of the NCP as a whole. The Janjaweed is even carrying out similar land seizures in Chad. 


The impasse in Darfur is also in no small measure due to the divisions within the international community and the interplay of differing interests. The US, China, France, Chad, Libya and Eritrea all have different security, economic and geopolitical agendas. It is estimated to have the largest unexploited oil reserves in Africa, the historical rights of which would normally belong to France under a 27 year old unimplemented contract. Now China is exploiting this resource and has become Sudan's most important trading partner. The US wishes no other parties to monopolize the oil than its own companies. Moreover the other main consideration of the US has been that of wooing the NCP away from terrorist support, having formerly been a haven to al Qaeda between '92 and '96.


Locally, Chad is fighting a cross border proxy war in Darfur and Eritrea plays a dual strategy of sometimes supporting the Darfur rebels and at other times appeasing the NCP in attempts to hinder support for Eritrean fundamentalist groups, like the Eritrean Islamic Jihad. All of this has tended to cause paralysis and contradictions with regard to agreeing upon initiatives in bodies such as the United Nations, the net result of which is continued devastation and stalemate in Darfur. 


In reality, there is no real thing as a Sudan nation. Khartoum has never really been able to unite and rule a society which is fundamentally based upon and divided between tribal loyalties that even extend into the few cities both in the north and south. There is a total impasse with the people's of the south never accepting Sharia rule from the north and the government being to weak to defeat the rebels. It cannot even rely on its own troops many of whom have deserted rather than fight. 


The majority of the people in the south treat the current paper peace and ceasefire agreement with the contempt it deserves. Evidently, devising a solution to the conflict is not going to come quickly or easily, if at all. Undoubtedly, the war and horrors are going to continue for some time. Perhaps the only way forward is for a referendum on autonomy and a federal Sudan, which includes giving land rights to the disenfranchised and belligerent Arab trines and militias.


However, there is no excuse for the suffering and the relief effort left to the defenseless charity organizations. There is no insoluble crisis in Darfur, only an insoluble lack of will and domination of self-interest. If in a matter of weeks the US was able to transport some 150,000 troops, administrators and an entire military machine to Iraq, surely it would take considerably less to alleviate the plight in Darfur, if the will and the interests of the world's superpower was genuine. However, America is neither going to mobilize its huge humanitarian potential, nor is it likely to be able to intervene in the country militarily given the debacle in Iraq and the looming fundamentalist crisis in neighboring Somalia. Tragically, like Rwanda and Sierra Leone, Darfur looks to be headed for continued impasse and further self-destruction.