The fighting in Darfur has taken a new turn since the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) split up into two factions that are now locked in battle with each other, ending their unity against the Sudanese army. Moreover, the plan of the Western governments, particularly the US, to replace the peacekeeping troops of the African Union in Darfur with United Nations forces – a move they believe will advance the cause of the rebels – has suffered a setback with the postponement of any replacement and the provision of more funds for the AU mission. But despite the understandable pleasure of the Sudanese government at the occurrence of both events, they happen to be only a temporary setback, and pose no really serious threat to the devious plans of those powers and organisations that are trying to break up Africa's largest Muslim country. Southern Sudan is already an autonomous region, and its people have the constitutional right to vote for secession after five years, while the fighting between the two rebel groups in Darfur might develop into serious bloodshed that the supporters of secession for the region can exploit to intensify international intervention.
It was at a conference in Brussels on July 18 that Western governments agreed to increase aid to the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, to the satisfaction of president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had consistently opposed its replacement by a UN force and took credit for the apparent reversal. The force will now have to stay there until at least the end of the year. The AU agreed at the beginning of July to let its force stay in Darfur until the end of December, but faced the problem of lack of the funds to enable it to remain there.
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, addressed the meeting at Brussels, calling on it to provide the necessary funds. But he also urged the Sudanese government to end its oppostion to an international force (belonging to the UN) arriving in Darfur to take over the role of the African Union's 7,000 troops. He added that he continued to hope that the government would welcome the international force as "we are going there to help it protect its own people." There is hardly any doubt that the rebel groups in Darfur – including those now allied to Khartoum – would prefer an international "peace force" to the AU troops, as shown by their constant criticism of the AU presence in the region. In contrast, president Bashir is adamantly opposed to the arrival of a UN peace force, as Kofi Annan advocates, and he must be happy that the UN secretary general is ending his term of office in December, when the UN troops are expected to pull out. But the new secretary general is bound to be supportive of the Western governments' position, as he will feel indebted to them for their role in his selection. Those governments have always been influential in the selection of UN secretary generals, who, like Annan, have normally been supportive of their positions.
Interestingly, just a day before the Western officials and UN officials meeting in Brussels decided to provide funds for the AU peace force, former US president Bill Clinton called for pressure to be exerted on Khartoum to receive new forces from Muslim countries to entrench peace in Darfur. Speaking at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Clinton said that the AU forces currently in Darfur were too few and underfunded to solve the region's security problems, adding that Khartoum should be compelled to accept forces from Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh. That he named only Muslim countries that Clinton believes to be allied to the US but not others, such as Iran, that would be opposed to the division of a Muslim country, is not surprising. As president of the US in 1993, he had after all sent US troops into Somalia to suppress an Islamic group calling for the establishment of an Islamic government, only to be forced to withdraw them. Nor is it surprising that he made his address in Ethiopia, an anti-Muslim US ally that is now engaged in a war on Somalia designed to keep it divided.
In fact, the proposal by Clinton to send troops from Muslim countries allied to the US might prove more effective in backing the "war on terror" in Sudan than the despatch of a UN peace force to Darfur. Since the overwhelming majority of the region's people are Muslim, sending Muslim troops there will tend to distract attention from the real nature of Washington's war on Islam. The fact that Darfur's population is Muslim explains the lack of alarm in Washington at the split of the two armed groups in Darfur that were fighting the Sudanese army but are now fighting each other.
The split in the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) occurred in May after one faction, led by Minni Minawi, signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in Abuja, the capital ofNigeria. The other faction, led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, Minawi's main rival within the SLA, refused to sign. Tribal rivalry lies at the heart of the split. Minawi is from the Zaghawa tribe, which has provided most of the fighters in the rebellion, while Nur is from the Fur tribe, the largest tribe among the region's six million people. In fact, the name "Darfur" means "home of the Fur", and Nur's followers believe that they have a special right to denounce the peace deal and continue to fight. The result is that the fighting in Darfur is largely between these two tribes (both Muslim), which are both enduring horrific suffering as a result.
Under the peace deal Minawi signed with the government, a bigger slice of the country's oil revenues will go to Darfur, and a leader from there (Minawi) will occupy the fourth highest position in the Sudanese regime, serving as ‘special advisor' to president Bashir. But Nur is believed to covet the position of vice-president, which the peace agreement between the south and Khartoum secures for a southern leader.
The deal between the south and the government goes beyond that and accords the region both autonomy and the right to hold a referendum on full independence after five years. That the southerners will vote for secession was indicated by a recent rally on the anniversary of colonel John Garang's death a year ago. Tens of thousands of people joined the rally to honour the man who fought for secession for many years before his death in a car accident. The Western countries, led by the US, which secured the deal for the southerners, will not be unwilling to wrest a similar one from Khartoum for Darfur. Minawi, who is another Garang, will seek a similar deal. This is the obvious and simplest explanation for Bush's receiving him recently and of his accusing Khartoum of genocide.