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Last Updated: Monday, 31 December 2007, 01:02 GMT
Ordeal of Darfur to go on in 2008
By Adam Mynott
BBC News, Nairobi

Soldier in Darfur
Attempts to find peace through negotiation have failed
The people of Darfur enter another year with hope in their hearts, but perhaps little faith that the ordeal they have faced for more than four and a half years may be coming to an end.

A new peace-keeping mission - a combined force of United Nations and African Union troops - is due to start operations at the turn of the year, and this might start to provide security for the six million people living in the western state of Sudan, but it faces huge obstacles.

Since 2003, tens of thousands of people have died in Darfur; the figure that is most widely used is "more than 200,000" but there is no way to verify this and some say it could be much higher.

The same goes for the estimated two-and-a-half-million forced to flee their homes because they fear for their lives and the safety of their families.

Janjaweed terror

Today people are still being threatened and killed.

Fighting between rebel groups and the government of Sudan, banditry and deliberate targeting of villagers by the dreaded Janjaweed - the government backed militia which has been terrorising African communities - are continuing.

To describe the AU force and the impending UN/AU force as a peace-keeping operation is misleading. There is no peace to keep.

The new UN/AU force is due to start work on 1 January 2008, and gradually build up towards its full strength of 26,000 troops by the middle of the year.

It will replace a hopelessly inadequate force of 7,000 AU soldiers who have watched while atrocities have continued to be carried out around them, and who have come under deadly attack themselves on a number of occasions.

To describe the AU force and the impending UN/AU force as a peace-keeping operation is misleading. There is no peace to keep.

Attempts to find peace through negotiation have failed. Talks have delivered little because they have never tied in all the groups engaged in conflict.

Recent discussions in Libya offered faint hope but without some of the key players involved, the impact on security on the ground has been non-existent.

The government of Sudan and its President Omar al-Bashir, have at last agreed, after much prevarication and delay, to the hand over of the peacekeeping mission from a uniquely African Union effort to a combined AU/UN operation, but it has been an object lesson in foot-dragging.

President Omar al-Bashir
President Omar al-Bashir has finally handed over peacekeeping

Even now the government of Sudan is refusing to allow the hybrid force to use helicopter gunships in Darfur. It cannot hope to operate well without the proper equipment.

Even if approval was given, no country has yet come forward offering to provide the hybrid force with the helicopters it needs.

Attacks on aid

There's no question that one of the big obstacles to the success of the AU peace-keeping mission has been a lack of vital resources. It looks as though this is set to continue.

On the ground in Darfur, conditions for aid agencies trying to help those affected are dire.

Access to many areas has been further restricted by the government of Sudan, and the situation for some agencies has become so perilous that they have been forced to pull out altogether.

Thousands of aid workers remain trying to feed and support the hundreds of thousands who are homeless.

In the past few days, Oxfam delivered a new vast consignment of aid and the World Food Programme of the United Nations provides basic, life-saving foodstuffs across Darfur around-the-clock.

But almost every day there are reports of attacks of convoys delivering aid.

The problems facing the people of Darfur are incredibly complex, but one dimension is straightforward: while there is little or no security there can be no improvement.

The prospects for improved security in Darfur in the coming 12 months appear to be slightly better, but far from good.

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