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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Hopes fade for solution for Darfur
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Darfur

Next month marks the first anniversary of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

Map showing location of Kutum, Darfur
The Kassab camp is a few miles outside Kutum

Widely accepted as an abject failure, the deal was rushed through and didn't secure the buy-in of all the rebel groups.

Now that insurgency has grown more fragmented and dispersed.

Insecurity is worse than ever and the deployment of UN peacekeepers to prop up the struggling African Union force has been stalled.

Meanwhile, the government in Khartoum, accused of fomenting violence in Darfur, has continued to thumb its nose at the international community and more than two million people find themselves uprooted from their homes.

Darfur today is one of the most volatile regions in Africa.

Envoy unwelcome

When the UN's new humanitarian chief, John Holmes, made his first visit there in his new role, he was treated as both a pariah and a hero.

Kassab camp in North Darfur

A visit to Kassab camp in the north of Darfur, 60 miles (97km) west of where African Union troops were killed earlier this week, ended in failure.

Sudanese soldiers turned his convoy around, confiscated tapes from a UN camera crew and made it clear the envoy was not welcome.

Although an apology quickly followed from the governor of North Darfur, the experience was symptomatic of the "push me, pull you" tactics that have become Khartoum's "stock in trade".

One moment relief workers are told they can operate in the area, the next they find their permits withdrawn. Huge swathes of this troubled region are left unmonitored.

A rebel in Deribat, Darfur
Aid agencies struggle to bring relief to the rebel stronghold of Deribat

Six months ago we reported from Kassab camp, where 21 women and girls had been raped in a fortnight.

The purpose of the UN envoy's visit was to test if the situation had improved. The answer is - we don't know.

It takes a lot for the International Committee of the Red Cross to up sticks and leave, but after an incident back in December in which their compound was attacked by gunmen in the town of Kutum, they withdrew for a short time. Only now are shaken staff gradually creeping back.

Intimidation such as this is totally unacceptable, says the ICRC's Jessica Barry.

"If we are to be able to assist people, all sides need to respect the aid agencies and other NGOs who are there," she said.

Feeling exposed

In sharp contrast, the envoy's visit to the town of Deribat in the Jebel Mara mountains of West Darfur, was met with applause. This is rebel territory and residents normally flee at the sound of helicopters - West Darfur has been a scene of heavy aerial bombardments over the past year.

UN humanitarian envoy John Holmes and North Darfur Governor Mohamed Yussuf Kebir.

These missions are technically a breach of the peace deal but they've continued unchallenged.

"Welcome welcome UN" sprayed on sheets turned into placards is the reception Mr Holmes receives as he emerges at the top of the hill.

Although the scene of public jubilation is without doubt stage-managed, it's a sign of how exposed people feel here and how incapacitated the African Union peacekeeping force is.

It is a dramatic scene in a town which can only be accessed by air.

The harsh landscape reflects the stark conditions faced by the people who call this home. Deribat has been totally cut off - surrounding roads have been closed by the Sudanese military and aid agencies struggle to get humanitarian assistance through.

Ali Adam, a medical assistant at a local clinic, explains he's had three women die in labour in the past two weeks.

Three more teenage girls in his care are about to give birth and he's concerned for their health. There are no medicines and no specialist help.

Deribat has the sense of a place under siege. The largest humanitarian operation in the world is under threat while needs continue to grow.

African Union forces are meant to be monitoring a fragile peace in Darfur but there isn't a peace to keep. Five AU soldiers were killed in north-west Darfur earlier this week, bringing the total killed to 15.

Few "experts" on the ground see Darfur as a breeding ground for international terrorism

The 7,000-strong force is struggling to maintain control. Morale is low, many of the men haven't been paid for weeks and turf battles with the Sudanese military limit its capacity to perform its role.

Brigadier General Ephraim Rurangwa, the AU's deputy force commander, can't hide his despondency.

"The troops that are here are not enough on the ground, they don't have enough equipment and that's why they're not operating effectively - we have to try and protect civilians but we don't have enough personnel for that," he said.

An agreement signed back in November by the Sudanese government paved the way for better equipped UN peacekeepers to be sent in to augment the AU peace mission - a so-called "hybrid force".

Khartoum has now rolled back on this promise, refusing to allow UN troops in Darfur, despite the fact that 10,000 UN peacekeepers are in the south of the country.

'Western plot'

Behind this change of mood lurks the International Criminal Court, which in February named a minister in the Sudanese government and a janjaweed leader as suspected war criminals. The Sudanese government does not recognise the international criminal court.

Displaced women and children at a camp in eastern Chad
The conflict and its effects have spilled over the border into Chad

Sudan continues to criticise the international media for "exaggerating" the conflict in Darfur and still seeks to portray the crisis as a western plot to undermine Islam. With UK Prime Minister Tony Blair now using "war on terror" when he speaks of Darfur, he may be shooting himself in the foot.

Few "experts" on the ground see Darfur as a breeding ground for international terrorism, but rather a region where deep-seated ethnic divisions, and competition for scarce resources, continue to be manipulated by Khartoum for political ends.

As the conflict in Darfur deepens, it is spilling over into eastern Chad, where more than 230,000 Sudanese refugees have now fled to escape the fighting. The crisis is taking on a regional dimension as the two countries accuse each other of supporting destabilising forces.

Chadian leaders have historically used Darfur as a base for launching coups, so a regional solution is likely to be the only way forward.

There are now moves to deploy UN peacekeepers to monitor the border between Sudan and Chad and the Central African Republic further south.

Although there's been resistance from the Chadian government, which would prefer a police presence, that strategy - coupled with political dialogue - is likely to be more profitable than Mr Blair's loud calls for more UN sanctions.

The UN's new humanitarian chief tours Darfur

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