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Sudan makes case abroad while still bombing Darfur

President Omar al-Bashir says international interference will hamper peace. Darfuris ask: 'What peace?'

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"The unprecedented move by the ICC prosecutor undermines the ongoing comprehensive peace process which has entered a final phase," Mr. Bashir added at an international summit last week. It "will have a catastrophic adverse impact on stability in the entire region."

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Arab and African nations have backed Sudan's position. Many Western analysts have cautioned that justice should not come at the price of peace.

"How will the ICC hamper the peace process? What peace process?" asked one international observer in Darfur. "I don't see anything happening."

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Last month saw heavy fighting between government troops and rebel factions in North Darfur. Many of the areas targeted by the government were under control of the only rebel group to have made peace with the government in 2006, contrary to the agreement's cease-fire. Tens of thousands of Darfuris are believed to have been displaced, many of them still hiding in the mountains afraid the bomb-dropping Antonov planes will return.

"The government has not even tried to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement. Not one move," added the observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Disarming Arab militias, for example? Quite the contrary, they started to give them more weapons and send them out again."

It's getting worse, locals say

Many Darfuris continue to bear the brunt of Bashir's alleged decision to unleash Arab militias – known as janjaweed – on the non-Arab rebels and civilians of their ethnic groups – through harassment by the government's central reserve police and border guards, who villagers and international observers say are simply former janjaweed.

Analysts have characterized the current conflict as low-level, compared to the height of the conflict in 2003-04, when government troops and allied militias allegedly burned villages, raped women, and looted animals en masse. But many Darfuris say the conflict is worse today than it was almost five years ago. Rape, looting, and killing by government police are weekly occurrences in camps for the displaced, residents say.

"[Government troops] are the ones attacking us. How will the ICC threaten the peace process? It won't jeopardize peace. If the criminal is caught, we won't be afraid anymore," said one sheikh at a camp for the displaced in Tawila. "We have run out of hope. We have given up on everything. How long can we live like this?"

Last month, 31 civilians were killed in South Darfur when government troops opened fire on a camp for the displaced, claiming they were trying to confiscate illegal weapons from within the camp.

"And this is while the government is supposed to be putting on its best act," said one UN official. "They don't care and they can get away with it."

The arrival of the African Union-UN Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has done little to improve the situation. Hamstrung by insufficient troops, it is often limited by the insecurity it is supposed to prevent. Patrols are suspended when tensions flare and villagers say peacekeepers stand and watch as attacks take place.