Almost a decade after government-backed Janjaweed militias began a “genocide” in Sudan's Darfur, shootings, rapes, looting and arson continue, residents say.
But officials are touting a deal signed last year between the government and an alliance of rebel splinter factions as the best hope for peace, and say security is showing signs of improvement.
“Darfur is at a crossroads,” Ibrahim Gambari, who leads UNAMID, the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“One direction is toward more peace, more progress, more movement toward early recovery and development; and one side is leaning towards the enemies of peace, the spoilers.”
Darfur plunged into uncertainty in December when government forces announced they had killed Khalil Ibrahim, who led the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), once Darfur's most heavily armed group.
JEM said this week that it is “still active and still able to do what we want”, despite the loss of Ibrahim.
The group has not signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, which Khartoum inked in Qatar.
“I think they still feel bitter about the death of their leader,” said Khalil Adam, of a UNAMID-backed citizens' liaison group.
“The death of Khalil will affect the process of peace in Darfur”, but if the current signatories honour the deal others will join, Adam told reporters during a UN-organised visit to the North Darfur capital El Fasher, and a nearby camp for people displaced by the conflict.
Factions of Darfur's Sudan Liberation Army headed by Minni Minnawi and Abdelwahid Nur also rejected the Doha deal. Instead, in November they formed with the SPLM-N rebels, based elsewhere in Sudan, a “Revolutionary Front” to overthrow the Khartoum government.
JEM said key issues including power and wealth sharing, human rights violations, and the almost two million displaced had not been resolved with the Doha pact.
Among its provisions the document, which covers about 100 pages, calls for a truth and reconciliation committee, a national human rights commission, $2 billion in government support for reconstruction and development, compensation for refugees, and affirmative action for Darfuris in government and military service.
“It is a good document” which can create a momentum towards peace, Fouad Hikmat, of the International Crisis Group think-tank, said from Kenya.
But he said the agreement faces key challenges including how to bring non-signatories into the process.
“That might be a bit complicated,” he said, adding that Darfuris also want evidence of progress on issues including justice and rehabilitation.
“First they have to provide the security. They have to provide some kind of confidence building,” to encourage those displaced by the war to return home, said Ahmed Atim, the bearded chief of Abushouk camp which is home to almost 55,000 people.
After eight years, Abushouk resembles not a camp but a village, where people live behind mud-brick walls and donkey carts are the main mode of transport over garbage-strewn sand.
Atim said there have been “some reported cases of burned schools”, while others spoke of gunfire.
“During the night there is heavy shooting,” said a tea vendor in the market.
She quickly back-tracked when a plainclothes government security agent popped up behind her. “Everything's fine,” she said.
The camp's youth leader said security has improved somewhat since the Doha agreement.
“The problem is only the shooting” and thefts, he said, blaming authorities for the gunfire.
“Because the government doesn't want the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the camp. They want the IDPs to go back,” he said.
Asked about the gunplay, Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad bin Addullah al-Mahmud, who chairs a panel monitoring the peace pact's implementation, said there had been “a quarrel between two persons.”
There are also reports of rape, looting and threats toward residents of Abushouk and a neighbouring camp, most of whom are anti-government, said a source familiar with conditions there.
“It's very complicated,” said the source.
Darfur's African rebel groups that rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003 were confronted by state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.
The United Nations estimates at least 300 000 people have died because of the conflict, with about 300 killed in deadly armed clashes last year. The government puts the total number of dead at 10 000.
“It is not easy to say tomorrow what will happen,” said Adam of the citizens' liaison group. - AFP