The Tsawwassen Peace Pole Ceremony on September 21 included a reflection from Sonya Sangster - a commercial pilot working with the United Nations and Vice-President of ICEF Canada.  Her words captured a glimpse into the conflict in Darfur and the efforts of many to bring about peace in the region.
Continue reading for a transcript of Sonya's account...
I am currently a commercial pilot working on contract with the the United Nations overseas. We work in some of the roughest, most conflicted places in the world: the types of places that are marred with violent and fractured histories that are spilling out into the present. 
I work within the UNAMID Mission in Sudan's Darfur region. UNAMID stands for United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur and is the only UN Joint African Union Mission within the UN. It is the first and only joint African union mission within the UN framework - its it the UN’s largest mission. And it is also considered one of it’s biggest failures.
There are several different explanations for the origins of the present conflict and lack of peace in Darfur. 
  • land and resource disputes between nomadic livestock herders and stationary farmers 
  • lack of water and resource access for civilians in Darfur 
  • a civil war that has raged for decades between the northern, Arab-dominated government and non Arab civilians 
  • a conflict between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government and two rebel groups based in Darfur: the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. It is very complex, because you have tribal fighting, religious ethnic cleansing, resource and water struggles, and also anti-government rebel groups.
The War in Darfur began in 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups took up arms against the government of Sudan, which they accused of oppressing Darfur's non-Arab population. The government responded to attacks by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's non-Arabs. This produced the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the indictment of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The rebel groups seized many towns, and the President of Sudan was left defenseless, as his army was just finishing fighting the end of the second Sudanese civil war in the east and the south. Bashir then did what many Presidents and Leaders are doing these days: he secretly paid a lot of money to trained Arab nomadic citizens in combat, and made a government army rebel group to fight his war in a new counter insurgency strategy. This group called themselves the Janjaweed, and the local people in Sudan called them “the devil on horseback”. 
Although the government always denied supporting them, the Janjaweed was given unprecedented military equipment. The Janjaweed was ruthless, burning villages and raping not only women and girls, but also little boys...and also beating and killing their victims in the process. The Janjaweed, ethnically cleansing the non-Arab Sudanese while fighting again the anti-government rebel groups. 
While they were looting villages they would also take out water supplies, burn the fire wood, and steal all the food. This, coupled with the violence, caused people to leave their homes in search of shelter and protection in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. 
Living in Nyala, I pass these IDP camps everyday on the way to work, and in the year I have been in Darfur, they continue to grow substantially. 
The UN estimates this year that 385,000 people have been displaced by the conflict between the Government of Sudan and armed movements in Darfur. This brings the total of IDP to almost 2.7 million, which is close to 22% of its population. To date, hundred of thousands of Sudanese civilians have lost their lives in this tragic war in Darfur. 
It is easy to look at the history of Darfur and be really disheartened. A lot of people have died, and so many more are displaced. This year, however, has seen a few small victories towards a peaceful Sudan:
  • Last month the opposition party and main rebel groups signed the “Paris Declaration”, which calls for ending the wars and engaging in a genuine national dialogue aimed at restoring democracy in Sudan. This is important because this declaration directly holds the Sudanese government responsible for their actions and sets an internationally recognized agreement for which the government needs to be accountable to
  • The president of Chad has invited all leaders of rebel groups and their factions, UN mediators, the Sudanese government and tribal elders to Addis Ababa on October 15 to mediate talks on Peace in Sudan. If all parties attend it will be the first time that these groups have all met in recent times
  • The allied rebel movements have now direct contact with the mediators and UN. This is a large step forward for the Sudanese people.
There are other activities that are increasing the corridors for peace. 
National security is the arm of the government that controls all movements within the country, they are the ones who control access to IDP camps, UN teams site, and everyone entering and leaving the country (down to people taking pictures on the street etc.) Them allowing UN access and humanitarian response is vital. 
In the first quarter of this year 2,079 weapons and 13,878 items of small arms ammunition were destroyed. 
Gender based violence continues to be a tactic of war, including the rape of women and girls. This year the UN provided security during firewood patrols.
The state government also has increased the recruitment of female government police officers to improve reporting and prosecution of cases of sexual and gender based violence in communities and IDP camps. This female presence is exceeding important, as reporting is often not accurate due to social circumstances in Muslim-based communities. 
WFP gave out 5,432 metric tones of food to IDP camps in Darfur and worked with the local government to provide safe passage for humanitarian workers. 
From my view, is it peaceful there? Well, I still take an armored escort to work, but on that road to work I see children on their way to school. I see men and women working in fields, women 
transporting their goods along the roads with donkey carts. The local people say that the Janjaweed (or their new name of Rapid Support Force) are not in Nyala town any longer, which has made life there a little easier. There are escorted trips to Nyala market for the UN civilian workers to shop for produce. People are not sitting in their homes behind locked doors, and the local regional government has helped a great deal in making Nyala much safer for the citizens by taking measures to expel rebel groups and help the UN with their mandate. 
Atrocities are still taking place in Darfur daily, and all of the factions of rebel, military and civilian resistance movements - and more importantly the actions of the Sudanese government - make peace in Darfur very complicated and a volatile situation. 
The problems in Darfur are manmade, therefore they can be solved by man. There is great hope that the meetings taking place in Addis Ababa on October 15 will be a fresh start for Sudan. I can’t even begin to speculate, but I know that the local people that I have interacted with from Darfur are hopeful, so I think we should be too.
~ Sonya Sangster, Vice-President | ICEF Canada
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