In the coming few weeks, the Government of Sudan will have the opportunity to make the difference between life and death, security and instability for the people of Darfur.
The African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) will put to it a detailed proposal for an AU-UN peacekeeping mission there, to implement the agreement reached with the Government of Sudan in November 2006.
That mission forms a crucial part of international attempts to support the people of Sudan by helping to end a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250,000 civilians, driven millions from their homes to squalid camps that lack the resources necessary to give them shelter, food and security, destabilised the region, and meant that four million people – two-third’s of Darfur’s population – are now dependent on international aid for food and basic needs.
Even since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in May 2006 another 230,000 people have been driven from their homes, taking the total number of those displaced to over two million.
But, despite this desperate situation, humanitarian organizations are having to draw back from Darfur because of the increased instability and restrictions placed on their movement. The Government of Sudan has refused access to Darfur for a Human Rights Council mission seeking to establish the facts on the ground, and the UN arms embargo on Darfur is willfully ignored by all sides.
For their part, the rebel groups have refused to join the Darfur Peace Agreement, and are today responsible for much of the instability in Darfur.
This cannot go on. The AU recognizes that, and the UN recognizes that.
That is why the AU asked the UN to take over peacekeeping in Darfur, after it became clear that the AU peacekeeping force there was not big enough or well-equipped enough to provide protection to refugee camps, towns and villages across the whole region.
That is why both the AU and the UN have both worked patiently with the Government of Sudan to try to establish exactly what sort of peacekeeping force it can accept to bring an end to the violence.
And that is why the international community should play its part by looking at ways to limit the flow of weapons and violence into Sudan and Darfur, such as extending the UN arms embargo and seeking to restrict the ability of those responsible to commit further atrocities.
The international community must also continue to work to reinvigorate the political process between the Government of Sudan and the rebels in Darfur, and encourage all parties to implement the cease-fire. For this to happen, the rebels will have to engage with a degree of seriousness and responsibility that they have so far failed to demonstrate, and the Government of Sudan will need to make good its commitment to allow a fully-staffed, effective international peacekeeping mission into Darfur.
If these conditions are met, that mission might be able to stop the bloodshed, the raping of women and children, the pillaging of villages, and the uncertainty and vulnerability that has been all that many in the region have known for the past four years.
We must all, including the Government of Sudan, do everything we can to ensure that the people of Sudan are given this opportunity to bring Darfur, Sudan and the wider region forward into peace and not backward into internal conflict.