Envoy sees little Darfur hope now

Times Staff Writer

When Jan Eliasson agreed to be a U.N. envoy to Darfur, he believed peace for the beleaguered region of Sudan was within reach. But after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy, rebel groups are more fractured and violent than ever and the Sudanese government is again engaged in brutal attacks on villages, he told the Security Council on Tuesday.

The chance for peace has slipped away for now, he told the council “with much regret,” and the focus must revert to restoring security. He scolded all parties in the conflict, including the Security Council and himself, for not doing more to halt the violence. More than 2 million people have been displaced, and most estimates of the death toll since 2003 exceed 200,000.

Eliasson and his partner in the Darfur peace process, former Tanzanian Foreign Minister Salim Ahmed Salim, said they would soon step back and leave it to another peacemaker, a yet-unnamed African mediator, to try a new strategy for calming one of the world’s most complex conflicts. The new mediator will be based full time in the region, unlike Eliasson and Salim, who were criticized for dropping in periodically for intense bouts of talks. Both will stay on in advisory roles.


“For over five years, millions of people have suffered enormously,” said Eliasson, a former president of the General Assembly and once Sweden’s foreign minister. “This simply can’t go on.”

The deployment of U.N. and African Union troops to the region has lagged alarmingly because of Sudanese government obstructions, U.N. bureaucracy and lack of equipment from donor nations, said Eliasson, but the goal of having 16,000 peacekeepers on the ground by year’s end now seems on track.

Peace talks have stalled because one of the most influential rebel leaders, Abdel Wahid, refuses to join in until fighting stops, he said.

The U.N. has been focusing on Darfur too narrowly, Eliasson concluded, and efforts to stabilize the region must also consider the tenuous power-sharing arrangement between Sudan’s north and south, as well as how the conflict with neighboring Chad feeds violence in Darfur.

The Security Council should consider sanctions on any party that impedes peace -- rebel or government -- as well as incentives to spur action from all parties, Eliasson said. An arms embargo should be enforced and perhaps expanded, he said.

Eliasson and Salim recounted their mediation efforts, how they traveled by air across Darfur to meet with rebel commanders and local government leaders to seek common ground for peace. It was a recitation laced with dashed hopes, bitter hindsight and disappointment.


Last summer brought the greatest moment of hope, when Eliasson and Salim herded almost all the key rebel commanders to a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, to form a united front to sit across the table from Sudan’s government.

“I was so hopeful in August. . . . “ said Eliasson in an interview. “I remember leaving Arusha thinking we are really on to something.”

But within weeks, the rebel groups splintered, and Sudan’s government faced its own split, putting the peace talks in limbo. The U.N. forged ahead, but the talks collapsed.

“It is hard to second guess, and there were times I nearly despaired,” Eliasson said. “It is a very difficult situation, but we must decide what else we can do and focus all of our energy on it.”

He said that countries with particular influence on Chad or Sudan -- such as France, China, the U.S. and South Africa -- had a responsibility to press harder for peace.

Security Council members echoed the envoys’ message for greater action, but there were few concrete proposals.


U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said security was the key, and so perhaps, were sanctions. “I think we have not been, frankly, tough enough with the government of Sudan,” he said.