Why Sudan is now allowing UN troops in Darfur

Sudan announced Monday it would allow 3,000 international peacekeepers in, leading the US and Britain to increase pressure.

International pressure from the United Nations, Arab leaders, and the United States played a role in Sudan's concession this week to allow 3,000 UN peacekeepers into the country's troubled Darfur region.

So, apparently, did the image concerns of China – both one of Sudan's biggest commercial partners and an increasingly outgoing international power – as it prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But while some international leaders are jumping to praise Sudan's uncustomary openness to international intervention in Darfur, the US and Britain are seizing the moment to increase pressure on Sudan.

As the conflict that has left more than 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced continues unabated, questions are surfacing over which approach is likely to stem the crisis most quickly.

Some experts say Sudan simply continues to play the international community by stringing out its concessions to make them appear to be major breakthroughs, even though they are unlikely to get at the heart of Darfur's strife.

"It isn't going to make a huge difference who in the international community has got the approach to this announcement right, or even how quickly the government of Sudan acts on it, because the whole issue of UN troops has been blown out of proportion compared to what they can really do," says Alex de Waal, a Darfur expert and program director with the Social Science Research Council in New York.

"International troops are ancillary to a peace agreement for Darfur," he adds. "They are not going to be the main event of a conflict that requires a political solution."

While that may be true, international leaders – ranging from Western officials facing domestic pressure to stop what the US has termed a genocide, to Arab and African leaders increasingly fed up with the inaction of a neighboring regime – are hoping international intervention will help pave the way for a political settlement.

Goal to send 21,000 peacekeepers

The goal of the international community, as set out by the UN Security Council last August, is to get a force of 21,000 peacekeepers from the United Nations and the African Union into Darfur.

The Sudanese government on Monday agreed to allow 3,000 armed UN peacekeepers to augment the 7,000-strong African Union force already in Darfur. Up until then, Sudan had voiced vehement opposition to the deployment of UN peacekeepers. In its letter to UN officials Monday, Sudan also reversed its stance and accepted the deployment of six attack helicopters for use in defending civilian populations.

After Sudan announced its acceptance of the 3,000 international peacekeepers, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the decision "a very important step" and said the UN and the African Union "intend to move very quickly" on delivering the new forces.

UN lauds Sudan's concession

Mr. Ban had met recently with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Arab leaders to deliver a breakthrough on the international troops. The August Security Council resolution stipulates that the forces could only be deployed with Sudanese approval.

Some observers see the Sudanese decision as an initial victory for Ban, who only took over the secretary-general's post in January. But others, including US officials, were less ebullient about the announcement.

"In all three areas – humanitarian, security, and political – the government of Sudan is not doing what it could" to return peace to Darfur, said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, after a visit to Sudan on Monday. He called the Sudanese decision "important," but cautioned that the international community would not be letting its guard down.

In New York, the words were even less rosy: "We learned a long time ago not to take these letters at face value," said Alejandro Wolff, the acting US ambassador to the UN.

For some observers, Sudan's decision reflects China's growing pressure on Khartoum to respond to growing pressures from the international community.

"It shows that one thing is more important to the Chinese than their access to Sudan's oil, and that's the success of their Olympic Games," said actress and Darfur activist Mia Farrow in comments to the Associated Press.

George Ayittey, an Africa expert at American University in Washington, says there is a role for China in solving the Darfur conflict – but he says it lies more in having China pressing Sudan to deal with the Darfur crisis in the African context.

"Sudan is an African problem, and we need an African solution to it," says Mr. Ayittey. "Once we talk about [UN] peacekeepers the problem is out of Africa," he says. "But this has to be addressed in Africa by the full range of people involved."

Mr. Ayittey says the model should be South Africa and its dismantlement of apartheid, an effort that did not "just involve two sides, but all elements of society." If the Darfur conflict is only addressed in terms of the government and rebels, he says, it will not be solved.

De Waal says the janjaweed, the pro-government Arab militia terrorizing the Darfur population, will never be disarmed by peacekeepers – that will take an internal Sudanese political solution.

De Waal says the danger of Sudan's latest agreement is that what he calls the "more-has-to-be-done crowd" will be enthralled by it, instead of looking for more viable solutions.

"It's not 'we need to do more,' " he says, "but at this point we need to rethink and say 'maybe we need to do things differently.' "

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