Roman Catholic Bishop Antonio Menegazzo, the apostolic administrator of El-Obeid diocese in Sudan, has expressed shock at a United Nations’ military commander’s pronouncement that Darfur’s war is over, despite the lack of a peace agreement and the ongoing threat of Janjaweed militia.
“The warring parties are still trying to come to an agreement of cease fire,” said Bishop Menegazzo, whose diocese includes Darfur, the troubled western Sudan region which is the size of France. “[We] cannot say that the war is over. I was really surprised at hearing the declaration.”
General Martin Luther Agwai, the U.N. military commander in the Darfur region, said on Aug. 27 that the six-year war that is said by the international body to have claimed around 300,000 lives and displaced up to 2.7 million people has in effect ended.
“As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur,” Gen. Agwai, the outgoing head of a joint U.N.-African Union force, told journalists in Khartoum.
“Militarily there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localized issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that.”
The Nigerian general’s comments evoked an angry response from members of Western non-governmental organizations and other Sudan observers.
Armed men on Aug.29 kidnapped two Joint U.N.-Africa Union (UNAMID) staff in Zalingei, west of Darfur, two days after General Agwai’s statement in the Sudanese capital.
The fighting in Darfur has pitted three main rebel groups on one side, and the Sudanese army and Janjaweed, a militia group led by ethnic Arabs, on the other.
“It is true that the situation in the region is better than before and there is nearly no fighting at this moment, but the war can restart at any moment,” Bishop Menegazzo told Ecumenical News International. He said apparent incidents of banditry are increasing, but it is hard to know if these are in fact planned attacks.
“It is a fact that the Janjaweed are still there and nobody tried to stop them,” said Bishop Menegazzo.
Secular and church-related relief agencies have reported facing increased car-jackings, kidnapping and government restrictions, since the announcement of an international arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in relation to allegations of war crimes in Darfur.