This Isn't the Work of Bandits.this Is Politics and China Holds the Power; Analysis

Daily Mail (London), August 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

This Isn't the Work of Bandits.this Is Politics and China Holds the Power; Analysis


Byline: by Richard Waghorne

MORE than a month since Sharon Commins was taken hostage, the desert sands of Darfur have gone unnervingly quiet. It is now more than a fortnight since rumours of her imminent release were circulating and since John O'Shea of GOAL said that the intensive efforts were continuing 'around the clock'.

Now all is silent again, at least in public. Clearly, those involved have learned the hard way that optimism is an unaffordable luxury in this part of the world. For the negotiators and the Irish diplomats tasked with securing her release, the sheer instability in Sudan is one of the sharpest challenges.

The Darfur conflict is well known, but is only one of the wars that rumbles on intermittently between the government in Khartoum and various opposing factions.

In recent days, the interminable fighting in the south has flared up again. On a single weekend 185 were killed, some speared to death, prompting new threats by the south to declare outright independence.

As in so much of Africa, the dimensions are daunting. The area is more than four times the size of Ireland and yet has barely a dozen miles of paved roads throughout. If independence is declared, the human cost of the resulting war over the resources beneath the contested ground will be immense. It is a dif-ferent part of the country to the area in which Miss Commins is presumed to be held, but it is an alarming reminder for our diplomats of how fissile Sudanese politics are.

In Darfur itself, the low-level chaos that distinguishes the province continues. New peacekeepers have arrived in the last week from Tanzania, but the U.N. force supposedly keeping order there remains chronically ineffective and a frequent target of attacks.

Part of the problem is a lack of helicopters, a problem shared by the U.N. mission across the border in Chad where Irish soldiers are serving. In Darfur, soldiers were promised 18 helicopters they still have not received.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese regime of Omar Al Bashir controls the skies and frequently uses its air superiority to drop bombs on restive vil-lages. As Irish diplomats are doubtless discovering, Sudan is a very hard country to lean on. There are few ways in which the West can bring pressure to bear. That is in part a result of war crimes charges brought against Al Bashir personally. …

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