A no-fly zone over the southwestern Sudan region of Darfur coupled with beefed-up international forces with a more aggressive mandate could go a long way toward stemming the humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s most troublesome spots, high-level participants at a Kennedy School conference on Sudan recommended Saturday (March 4).
Conference organizer Robert Rotberg, director of the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Program on Intrastate Conflict, Conflict Prevention, and Conflict Resolution, said that, with several participants from the Sudanese government participating in the conference, not all agreed with the recommendations put forth Saturday.
But with the violence in Darfur beginning to spill over into neighboring Chad and smaller conflicts erupting elsewhere in Sudan, Rotberg said participants felt it important to suggest a concrete course of action that can improve the situation in Africa’s largest country.
Rotberg shared details of the three-day event, which was closed to the press to allow participants to talk freely. The event attracted a variety of influential participants, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Cameron Hume, Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lam Akol, Sudan’s Ambassador to the United States Khidir Haroun Ahmed, former Darfur Gov. Ahmed Diraige, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., a leader of the House’s Sudan caucus, and former U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios.
Sudan has seen decades of conflict since gaining independence from Britain in 1956. A post-independence civil war finally ended in 1972, only to break out again in 1983. The conflict was between the largely Arab, Muslim north, which has dominated the nation’s political and economic life, and rebels in the non-Arab, non-Muslim south. A 2005 settlement granted autonomy for southern rebels for six years and promised a referendum on independence after that.
The conflict in Darfur, which is separate from the north-south conflict, broke out in 2003. It has resulted in 200,000 deaths and 2 million displaced. In recent months, the war has spilled into neighboring Chad, as attacks by the Sudanese-government-backed militia, the janjaweed, have driven thousands of Chadians from their homes.
Chief among the recommendations, Rotberg said, are that some measure of autonomy, perhaps within a federal system of government, will have to be given Sudan’s restive regions if the nation is to stay together.
Conferees also concluded that attention needs to be paid to all the nation’s conflicts and not just Darfur, tragic as events there are, Rotberg said. With respect to Darfur, most participants recommended that the United Nations ban Sudanese aircraft from the region, creating a no-fly zone similar to the ones created in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
“The killing is coming from the air as well as the ground,” Rotberg said.
Other Darfur-related recommendations included reining in government-backed militia and beefing up the current African Union forces, which Rotberg said are inadequate for the task of ensuring peace in the region. Rotberg said the African Union forces need a major increase in support from the United States and the European Union, and a new, more aggressive mandate.
The Kennedy School event, called “The Sudan: Between Peace and War,” began March 2 with Zoellick’s talk at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, followed by dinner and a reception. Panel discussions on March 3 covered the North-South Agreement that ended the decades-long civil war, the conflict in Darfur, another conflict in Sudan’s northeast, and issues relating to development. Saturday’s morning session was devoted to making policy recommendations.
Rotberg said the recommendations will be drafted into a policy brief and a larger report that will be presented in Washington in April.