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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Q&A: Your questions about Darfur
The BBC's East Africa correspondent, Karen Allen, answers your questions about Darfur, the war-torn region in western Sudan.

Q: How responsible is the West for the problems in Darfur?
Catherine Cornish, London

A: The problems of Darfur are not the making of the West historically, however there is a strong belief among many observers that the West has been culpable in not doing enough to intervene in the conflict. With early indications of ethnic tensions in Darfur, all eyes were focused on the peace deal bringing to an end a 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan. Washington in particular was eager not to undermine those negotiations by acknowledging rising ethnic tensions in the west of the country. The US did have civilian protection monitoring teams in Sudan at that time to investigate human right abuses, but when 10,000 UN peacekeepers were deployed in south Sudan, the role of these monitors was effectively watered down.

Q: What is the relationship between the black African population of Darfur and the Sudanese government?
Eze Chiuzor, Lagos, Nigeria

A: Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a power-sharing deal was agreed giving black Africans key posts in government. Under the Darfur Peace Accord, signed between the government of Sudan and one of the rebel movements back in May, there were further measures aimed at power-sharing, absorption of rebel fighters into the Sudanese military and the prospect of regional government being formed. The Mini Minawi faction of the SLA - the rebel group that did sign the deal - is now fighting alongside Sudanese government soldiers. Critics argue that the SLA/MM is effectively being used as a paramilitary wing of the Sudanese army, responsible for many of the crimes and atrocities being committed.

Q: What are the Arab nations doing to stop this ethnic cleansing?
Bharat Tailor, Northampton, England

The Arab League has traditionally backed Khartoum's position - rejecting sanctions and military intervention in Darfur. Now with the extension of the African Union peacekeepers' mandate until the end of this year, the Arab league has promised to contribute extra resources badly needed by the force, but there appears to be a recognition that little headway is being made in resolving the conflict. With diplomatic pressure intensifying, Egypt and the Arab league have been meeting President Omar al-Bashir to persuade him to accept UN Security council resolution 1706 ushering in a UN peacekeeping force.

Q: Why do the women and girls have to go get firewood and risk rape in Darfur? Is a woman who has been raped shunned? Do her family reject her?
Connie B, Salt Lake City USA

A: It is hard to generalise about how rape is seen in Darfur. Most women I visited had their husbands present during the interviews and they were viewing this as an assault on the entire family. Traditionally in Darfur women collect water and also firewood for fuel. When you ask why the men do not do it, the answer is that if they went out into the fields, they would be killed. The African Union Force used to provide "firewood patrols" for women leaving the camps to collect firewood. However, due to a shortage of resources they have cut back and consequently the numbers of rapes have soared. In August in one camp alone, there were 200 rapes in the space of five weeks.

Q: Do the people feel left behind by the international community? How do they think the situation can be solved and what do they expect of us?
Annelies, Brussels, Belgium

A: People are war-weary and want peace at any price. A familiar sentiment is that the African Union force is unable to protect civilians from the fighting and is becoming discredited day by day - unfairly perhaps. I was impressed at how many people in the camps were following the debate over whether the Khartoum government should accept resolution 1706, getting their news from small transistor radios. Though many people in Darfur are wary of what they see as the West's anti-Islamic stance, they think the UN should be allowed in for the sake of peace.

Q: Are the African Union making any difference? How reassuring is their presence?
Luiz Varela, Luxembourg

In areas where they are able to operate the AU are a reassuring presence but in parts of north Darfur where rival militias now associate them with the rebel group, they are finding themselves the focus of attack. Sudanese and international aid workers are now working in areas where it is no longer safe for the AU forces to operate. AU commanders are deeply frustrated because they do not have the tools to do the job. Speak to observers privately and they say it is an undisciplined force with a degree of infighting.

Q: Do you believe that UN forces going in to Darfur without the consent of the Sudanese government is a realistic prospect. Would China and Russia ever back this? Is there a viable alternative?
Joe Jenkins, London, UK

I think it is extremely unlikely that any UN mission would go into Darfur without the consent of Khartoum. It would be political suicide. There are intensifying diplomatic efforts to get the government of Sudan to agree. China did not reject the Security Council resolution but abstained - that says a lot about the potential for negotiation and behind the scenes I suspect Beijing and Khartoum are talking. As an interim measure bolstering the AU force is the only option but it is already the middle of October and more resources have not come through. There is a danger that come 31 December, when its mandate expires, we could still be having the same debate.

Q: Are IDP [internally displaced person] camps protected and is food relief getting to them?
Nancy Meadows, Colorado, U.S.A.

A: Some camps are protected and in areas where AU forces are unable to offer patrols and protection, the local community has made some attempt to protect itself. Food is getting through to the IDP camps and in many respects people are marginally better off than in the villages which, due to growing insecurity, have become cut off. Last week the World Food Programme estimated that 150,000 people in Darfur had not had access to food aid for four months. The problem is that with access being so hard, it is difficult to verify.

Q: Do you agree that the international media (the BBC included) has ignored the role of other international parties in the conflict?

A: There are many players in this conflict including Eritrea, Chad and Libya. There are also those with huge business interests such as China with influence on the Security Council and hence the international community's response to the Darfur crisis. There has been much high-profile rhetoric from the West, largely to appease domestic audiences concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur, but little concerted action. Sanctions have not been applied and neither have the assets of those implicated in atrocities been frozen. I think if the West did have "designs" on Darfur, a UN force would have been sent in long ago.

Quick guide: Darfur
06 Sep 06 |  Africa

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