UN Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur Failing?

A couple of weeks ago we watched the National Film Board of Canada documentary film, The Peacekeepers, in introduction to IR.   It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the enterprise of UN peacekeeping operations, demonstrating the successes and failures of the UN in attempting to create and keep the pace amongst Congo’s warring factions.  We saw the clash between realist views of international sovereignty, security, and power and the liberal ideal of multinational cooperation.  The New York Times reports today on the potential failure of a relatively new UN peacekeeping operation before it has even started.  Those who have been following the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan know that it has taken four years to get a UN peacekeeping force on the ground.  It may already be doomed to failure.  It is uncanny how much of this report sounds like it was taken directly from the documentary about Sudan.

un_darfur.jpg ABU SUROUJ, Sudan — As Darfur smolders in the aftermath of a new government offensive, a long-sought peacekeeping force, expected to be the world’s largest, is in danger of failing even as it begins its mission because of bureaucratic delays, stonewalling by Sudan’s government and reluctance from troop-contributing countries to send peacekeeping forces into an active conflict.

The force, a joint mission of the African Union and the United Nations, officially took over from an overstretched and exhausted African Union force in Darfur on Jan. 1. It now has just over 9,000 of an expected 26,000 soldiers and police officers and will not fully deploy until the end of the year, United Nations officials said.

Even the troops that are in place, the old African Union force and two new battalions, lack essential equipment, like sufficient armored personnel carriers and helicopters, to carry out even the most rudimentary of peacekeeping tasks. Some even had to buy their own paint to turn their green helmets United Nations blue, peacekeepers here said.

The peacekeepers’ work is more essential than ever. At least 30,000 people were displaced last month as the government and its allied militias fought to retake territory held by rebel groups fighting in the region, according to United Nations human rights officials.

Janjaweed Militia Renews Scorched-Eart Policy in Darfur

The New York Times reports that the notorious Janjaweed militia is once again active in Darfur.

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Abu Surouj, Sudan, after government forces and allied militias burned the town last month. Such attacks in Sudan are a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict.

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

 SULEIA, Sudan — The janjaweed are back.

They came to this dusty town in the Darfur region of Sudan on horses and camels on market day. Almost everybody was in the bustling square. At the first clatter of automatic gunfire, everyone ran.

The militiamen laid waste to the town — burning huts, pillaging shops, carrying off any loot they could find and shooting anyone who stood in their way, residents said. Asha Abdullah Abakar, wizened and twice widowed, described how she hid in a hut, praying it would not be set on fire.

“I have never been so afraid,” she said.

The attacks by the janjaweed, the fearsome Arab militias that came three weeks ago,, were a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict.

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

I noticed the same pattern during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with militia groups acting in close concert with government support.  In my study of the Croatian region of Baranya, I noticed that the villages in which civilians were killed all had one thing in common–they were on (or very near) a major regional road.  This meant that government military forces (with their tanks and armed personnel carriers) had easy access to these villages, allowing the militias to swoop in and do their thing.