The Sudanese army and Darfur’s largest rebel group clashed this past weekend in the longtime rebel stronghold of Jebel Moon, but reports from each side of what ensued read like entirely different incidents. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, declared that it had overtaken the fortified region of Jebel Moon and killed 108 rebel fighters. The rebel Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, countered that it had vacated Jebel Moon 10 days prior to the government’s air raids, having anticipated the offensive. JEM maintains that only eight rebels from a lingering group were killed.
The third party who could potentially refute or corroborate these reports, UNAMID, announced today that it plans to send its teams to investigate and evaluate the impact of the fighting on the civilian population in the vicinity.
While the details vary greatly depending on who you ask, a number of sources told Enough that what’s indisputable is the fact that the Sudanese government deployed heavy artillery to Jebel Moon, a move it hasn’t made since the start of the conflict in 2003. This development suggests that Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party insists on neutralizing Darfur’s rebels through military means, even while it pays lip service to peace talks in Doha. This contradictory behavior on the part of the NCP should leave international actors asking whether the NCP was ever working “in good faith” to find a negotiated solution in Doha. (Certainly, the same question should be asked of JEM, but the rebel group isn’t the primary partner the U.S. is engaging with at this point, and theoretically, the government is responsible for the welfare of its people and should be held to a higher standard than a rebel group.)
The U.S. State Department issued its first statement today responding to the violence in Jebel Moon. Utilizing words and phrases such as ‘condemn’ and ‘must immediately cease,’ the statement was remarkably incongruous with the gravity of the situation in Darfur and what it says about the goodwill of the NCP. Here’s a segment:
We urge both the Government of Sudan and the Darfur rebel movements to refrain from any further actions that would undermine the Darfur peace process or endanger civilians, and we urge all parties to return to active negotiations in the AU/UN-mediated peace process in Doha, Qatar, to reach a political settlement to the conflict in Darfur. We also call on the Government of Sudan to grant access to the affected areas to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and to humanitarian organizations.
U.S. Special Envoy Gration, who has committed to evaluating tangible actions undertaken by the NCP and adjusting U.S. pressures accordingly, should be recalibrating right now. Will the Sudanese government’s military offensive in Darfur generate anything more substantive than a belated “condemnation” from the U.S. government?
Omer Ismail contributed to this post.