Movement at last

Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. The mission will consist of 17,500-19,600 soldiers and 6,000 police.

Not only that, but the Sudanese government has backed the need for a ceasefire and a more inclusive political process.

Now, those are all pretty words but of course there’s no guarantee the plan will be fully enforced. The UN is always stretched and strapped for cash, and the AU has long said its resources were fairly thin. But the fact that Khartoum is weighing in behind the deal is cause for celebration.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the last four years, while about two million have fled their homes. Khartoum says only 9,000 have died since the conflict erupted and denies enlisting the Janjaweed militia to crush the rebellion.

BBC said there was no concrete timetable for deployment, which would not be before next year. There is also no definitive decision on the make-up of any such force, although it is likely to have as many African soldiers as possible. Sudan wanted nothing to do with an all-UN force as it considered that a Western invasion.

I am cautiously optimistic. This is huge news, but the follow-through may be sorely lacking. There’s no guarantee Sudan will fully co-operate with the mission, although the fact it has agreed to the force implies it should have government backing. The phrase is a cliché, but we will have to wait and see.

Fingers crossed that there could be a (relatively) happy ending to this one.

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