Sudan: UNAMID kidnappings throws doubt on end of Darfur war

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Barely a week after the official declaration of an end to the six-year Darfur conflict in Western Sudan, two members of the joint UN/African Union (Unamid) peacekeeping forces have been kidnapped in the region.

The kidnapped soldiers are yet to be identified but their disappearance has been confirmed by Unamid spokesperson, Mr. Noureddin Mezni. “Armed men attacked the Unamid staff residence in Zalingei, and abducted the pair,” Mr. Mezni said. Although there has been a series of kidnappings of aid workers in the region, this is the first time Unamid peacekeepers have fallen victims. Reports claim that contacts had been made with the captors, but no further information has been released concerning the situation.

Last week, experts, analysts and observers accused the media of attempting to set the war aside, after the leader of the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping force declared that the war was over. The Unamid commander, Gen Martin Agwai, said the region now suffered more from low-level disputes and banditry than the violence of recent years. Although the intensity of the violence has reduced, it is believed that there is still little prospect of a peace deal.

With this latest kidnapping incident, even the UN peacekeeping force, Unamid, will doubt that the war is indeed over. Sudan analyst, Ms. Gill Lusk, had warned that the war-is-over-claim by the UN could lead people into believing that Darfur’s problems had been solved. According to her, “If the claim is true, why do some parts of Darfur remain out of bounds, even for Unamid? There has been a large decline in fighting in the region, and that is undoubtedly a good thing for the people, but it is the government that turns the tap on and off – they can restart the violence whenever they want.”

The Darfur war broke out in early in 2003 when rebel groups attacked the Arab-led government in Khartoum accusing them of oppressing black Africans. This led to a counter attack by pro-government militiamen in a manner that provoked claims of a genocidal attempt to cleanse black Darfuris. Human Rights Watch argued that the Khartoum government under President Omar al-Bashir supported the Arab militia against black Darfuris with ammunitions supplied by China. But president al-Bashir and China have since denied any involvement in the alleged Darfur genocide. Many aid agencies have been working in Darfur but they are unable to get access to vast areas because of the insecurity. Several were banned after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir for alleged war crimes.

The UN says 300,000 people have died in Darfur and almost three million people are reported to have been displaced by the fighting. Some 200,000 people have also sought safety in neighboring Chad, but many of these are camped along the border and remain vulnerable to attacks from the Sudan side.

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