U.N. Peacekeepers Have Little Effect on Darfur

From where Fatuma Ibrahim sits, nothing in Darfur has changed. She and her four children are still living in a refugee camp in the western region of Sudan, in a stick-and-mud-walled hut with a ragged scrap of white tarpaulin for a roof. They still rely on international aid agencies to provide food and water. And there is apparently still no international force to protect her. About the United Nations force that is supposed to be protecting Darfur's displaced, she says, "We do not see them."

The U.N. last year agreed to send 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur. It was to be the largest, most expensive mission the U.N. had ever undertaken, replacing an ineffectual African Union force that had failed to halt the violence. On Dec. 31, peacekeepers in the 9,000-strong A.U. took off their green helmets and put on the U.N. blue, forming the joint U.N.-A.U. operation known as Unamid. No soldiers have been deployed. Nor have any of the 24 helicopters the mission needs to cover the region, which is about the size of France. Nor are there any new armored personnel carriers.

Even the helmets are not new. Most soldiers had to paint their green helmets blue. Some resorted to tying on blue plastic bags with elastic.

The threadbare force has failed to keep a lid on the violence. Indeed, since the start of the year, it has only gotten worse—a further 155,000 people have fled their homes since January. Government bombing campaigns have begun again in parts of north and west Darfur. Janjaweed militia members have moved into bombed-out villages, burning what remains.

But Unamid's failure is not merely due to a lack of resources and personnel. Peacekeepers need a peace to keep, and at the moment there is no sign of talks, let alone an agreement. An attempt was made in October, when, amid much fanfare, talks were launched in Libya. But none of the major rebel groups turned up.

The rebels, once united in their desire to see Darfur's decades-long marginalization end, are now hopelessly split. Three rebel factions attended talks in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2006. Conservative estimates put the number of factions now at around 30.

Some commanders have fallen out over tactics, and others have been bought off by Khartoum. And then there are some for whom banditry has become so profitable that their original purpose has been lost. On the road from Nyala to Kass, a 50-mile stretch in south Darfur, there are currently no fewer than 15 different checkpoints, each manned by a different rebel faction. At each barrier, passing vehicles are required to pay a "tax."

The growth in banditry has had a devastating effect on the international aid effort. Hardly a single day goes by without an attack on an aid vehicle. Last year was bad enough: More than 130 humanitarian vehicles were hijacked, 147 staff members were temporarily abducted and 13 aid workers were killed. This year will be worse, with almost 140 vehicles already hijacked, 120 staff members abducted (30 are still missing) and nine killed.

The humanitarian aid operation, the world's largest, is now also under threat. The World Food Programme has been forced to cut its rations in half—so many of their vehicles have been hijacked that the agency cannot get enough food into Darfur. As the hijackings increase, aid agencies rely even more on the humanitarian air service, whose helicopters fly daily to Darfur's remotest parts. But that too is under threat; it costs $77 million a year, and donors are refusing to fully fund it.

Unamid now finds itself stationed in the middle of a war zone, and with no additional forces or equipment, it has been reluctant to step in. As Janjaweed roamed through a camp in Tawila last month, burning down the market and looting homes, peacekeepers watched. Those living in the camp ran into the Unamid compound, but peacekeepers in the compound decided not to run into the camp. "Unamid is not the problem," insisted Henry Anyidoho, the deputy political head of the mission. "The problem is the failure of the international community to give Unamid the equipment it needs to do its job. They expect too much, too quickly, even though they are not providing the means."

Leaders in the United States, Britain and France rarely miss an opportunity to talk about the plight of Darfur, but so far, all three countries have failed to provide Unamid with the equipment it so desperately needs.

At one stage, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, the force commander, said he considered quitting. "I thought the world did not care about us," he said. Then he read a self-help book, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living." "It helped me a lot. I am ready to continue."

Gen. Agwai may have stopped worrying, but for people like Fatuma, it will be a long time before they can start living. The daily violence—the banditry, the hijackings, the attacks on civilians by all sides in the conflict—shows no sign of abating.

There is a growing realization that Unamid, the force the world sent to end this conflict, is not the answer—not without a peace deal, at any rate. The fighting continues, the displacement continues, and the misery in the camps continues.