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Darfur: Little hope five years on

By Amber Henshaw
BBC News, Khartoum

Five years on and there is little hope of any end in sight for the people of Darfur.

Displaced Darfuri children in a refugee camp in Chad
Refugees from Darfur speak of the horrors of the conflict

Peace talks have failed to get off the ground, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission will not be fully deployed for months to come, and two-thirds of the region's population is dependent on the world's largest aid operation.

"The situation is not better than it was five years ago," says Auriol Miller, head of Oxfam in Sudan.

"We would still say the situation is getting worse. Humanitarian workers are being targeted and attacked in a way that has got increasingly worse over the last few years."

When I last visited the remote, arid region in November, destitute refugees lined up at the Abu Shouk camp, desperate to tell their stories so the world could find out what had happened to them.

They spoke of toddlers being burnt alive in villages as men on horseback razed their houses to the ground; of women being raped as they fled their homes looking for safety in the early stages of the conflict.

At night, people said they still found it hard to sleep - terrified of being killed while in their beds.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor
We cannot solve the problem in Darfur without Chad
Sudan Foreign Minister Deng Alor

There has been an upsurge of violence in the last few weeks in West Darfur as government forces carried out aerial bombings in an attempt to clear the area of rebel fighters.

Despite efforts by the international community, Darfur's war has not been easy to resolve.

The conflict is now far more complex than it was when rebels attacked a garrison town in North Darfur state on 26 February 2003 - a date many experts pinpoint as the start of the conflict.

At that time there were only two rebel groups, but the number has multiplied as the factions have fallen out.

Sudan's Foreign Minister Deng Alor says the number of rebel groups has made it much harder to solve the conflict.

Chad key

Efforts are underway to unify the different groups so peace talks can restart, but some of the key rebel leaders are still refusing to sign up to the negotiations.

Many analysts say that the conflict across the border in Chad is also intertwined with the fate of Darfur.

map

Last month Chad's government accused Sudan of masterminding an attempt to overthrow the country's President Idriss Deby using rebels it said were based in Darfur.

In return, Sudan accuses Chad of arming the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), whose leadership is from the same Zaghawa group as President Deby.

In his blog on Darfur, Sudan analyst Alex de Waal writes: "The three armed groups involved in the latest attack [in the Chadian capital N'Djamena] were all extensively armed by Sudanese security, which has the clear intent of cutting off the support that Deby is giving to Darfur rebels, especially [Jem], which has recently been on the offensive in Darfur."

The Sudanese have always denied any connection to the Chadian rebels. Mr Alor said Sudan was trying to improve relations with the Chadian government.

"The developments in Chad have also impacted very negatively on Darfur and that makes us as a government want to look for a quick solution for Darfur," said Mr Alor.

"We are trying to talk to the government of Chad because we cannot solve the problem in Darfur without Chad, without improving relations with the government of Chad."

Weak force

These latest clashes on the remote Chad-Sudan border have made life difficult for the new UN-AU peacekeeping mission, which took over from the AU on 31 December.

A peacekeeper in North Darfur
We don't see an immediate end to this unless Unamid is properly resourced
Auriol Miller
Oxfam in Sudan

The force, which is supposed to be 26,000-strong, only has around 9,000 peacekeepers and soldiers on the ground.

They are desperately short of personnel as well as essential equipment like helicopters which would make access to remote parts of the region far easier.

Despite the difficulties they are facing, Unamid has made a positive start in the region. The peacekeepers have now resumed night patrols and are working hard to ensure that Darfuris have confidence in the mission.

Oxfam's Ms Miller said that it was essential that the international community gave the force, Unamid, the support it needed.

"We don't see an immediate end to this unless Unamid is properly resourced and the international community supports ongoing peace negotiations so that they are comprehensive and representative of the community in Darfur which is very diverse," she said.

Map of displaced people from Darfur



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