Sudan – Darfur: Violence, abductions, finger pointing doom peace process

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Doubts surrounding Darfur’s peace status has resurfaced since the kidnapping of three aid workers affiliated with U.S. relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. The missing workers include two Sudanese men and a U.S citizen.

According to reports, the kidnappers made off with the two vehicles carrying the Samaritan Purse workers, who may have been kidnapped for ransom.

In the meantime, an American based group, the Boone, has said it is working with U.S. and Sudanese officials to secure the safe return of the staff members, and the US embassy in Sudan has also said it is working with its contacts to follow the situation closely.

The kidnapping of Samaritan Purse aid workers highlights the dangers and insecurities that still abound in Darfur. Last month alone, four South Africans from the African Union peacekeeping mission were kidnapped in the volatile region. Other relief workers from the Red Cross have also been abducted in the Darfur province.

Human Rights Watch say there has been an upsurge of fighting in Darfur in recent weeks, the area in general remains very insecure, and the peace process is fragile.

Analysts have said the recent trend of abducting foreign national or aid workers increased after the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur. The situation for humanitarian workers began to worsen in 2009.

Rebel movements in Darfur continue to fight government soldiers and Arab militias, allegedly backed by President al-Bashir’s regime, and even though the Sudanese army has taken over control of an area once controlled by a major rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), the insecurities still abound.

Tuesday, the United States, Department of State condemned “the Government of Sudan’s use of aerial bombings and local militias against Darfur rebel positions in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur.” It also warned that “Subsequent incidents of looting and attacks on infrastructure by the Justice and Equality Movement further endanger civilian populations.”

Last week, the government of President Omar al-Bashir requested Interpol to arrest Jem leader, Khalil Ibrahim for his role in a planned attack in 2008. But the chairman of Jem’s Legislative Council, Eltahir Adam Elfaki said that ”If any attempt is made to arrest Dr. Khalil then it is all-out war. Even as we speak, the Sudanese government is bombarding areas of North Darfur and West Darfur.”

Mr. Elfaki also insisted that “Bashir is an indicted criminal – indicted by the ICC – and has no right to ask for anyone to be indicted by Interpol.”

The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs say over 300,000 people have died since fighting began in 2003. About 2.7 million people have had to flee their homes as a result of the conflict.

On Tuesday, Darfur mediation met in Doha with head of Sudanese government delegation for peace talks, announcing the resumption of their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement for the seven year conflict.

In February, Jem signed a ceasefire with the Khartoum government of Sudan. After the ceasefire was signed with Jem, President al-Bashir declared that the war in Darfur was over. However, Jem has since accused the Khartoum government of intermittent military raids, and earlier this month it boycotted peace talks with the Khartoum based government.

Jem also suspended its participation in the peace process after accusing Khartoum of breaching a truce, while slamming the host country, Qatar, for favoring the Sudanese government.

So far, 44 prisoners of Jem- soldiers from the Sudanese army have been released to the International Criminal Court, but the tensions between Jem and the Sudanese Arab-led government continue to trouble the free flow of aid and aid workers in the region.

Samaritan Purse is reported to have provided over $83 million in Darfur assistance in the past decade.

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