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Opinion

Stand up to Sudan's thugs

Men with guns can't be the only ones at the peace table.

By Eric Reeves / May 27, 2009



Northampton, Mass.

Is there a road to peace in Darfur? The question has broad geopolitical implications. Sudan is the biggest country in Africa, it borders nine states, and is located at the crossroads of Africa and the Arab world. Its fate is tied not only to the region, but to the continent of Africa and the rest of the world.

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Though earlier this year Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became the first national leader to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), he remains defiant and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur only deepens. Several hundred thousand people have died and 3 million have been displaced by fighting since 2003.

Is there a way to overcome the bloody tribal and ethnic rivalries that have become endemic in the vast western province over the past six years and are an essential part of the Khartoum regime's divide-and-rule strategy in the region? There may well have been a particularly promising opportunity, until Khartoum ended a bold and innovative effort by Darfurian civil society to forge unified positions on a broad range of key issues. If we want to seize such an opportunity again, the international community must push hard.

The initiative of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a conference called Mandate Darfur, was to bring together some 300 representatives of Darfur from across geographic, ethnic, and political backgrounds, including traditional and young leaders and a strong contingent of Darfurian women.

Instead, discussions slated for this month have been aborted. Mandate Darfur announced that after months of working with Darfurian civil society to build a mandate for peace, the Sudanese government was obstructing the safe passage of Darfurian delegates from Sudan to the conference in Ethiopia and thus it had to be canceled.

Khartoum's obstruction of the Darfurian civil society initiative was greeted with appalling indifference by the world community. There have been none but the mildest condemnations from the United Nations, the US, the European Union, and the African Union. It hardly helps that Western news reporting on this significant development has been virtually nonexistent. Sadly, it is as though the international community has accepted Khartoum's premise that peace talks need involve only combatants.

But if past negotiations between Darfur's rebel groups and the regime have taught us anything, it is that nothing will be achieved if the only ones at the peace table are men with guns.

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