Departing UN-African Union joint force commander Martin Luther Agawi told correspondents that "there is no war as of now in Darfur", insisting that his force had succeeded in ending ethnic massacres in the region.
REUTERS - Sudan's Darfur region is no longer in a state of war and only has one rebel group capable of mounting limited military campaigns, the head of the area's peacekeeping force said as he ended his tour of duty.
The commander of the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID force, Martin Luther Agwai, told reporters the conflict had now descended into banditry and "very low intensity" engagements, that could blight the remote western region for years without a peace deal.
"As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur," he said in a briefing in Khartoum late on Wednesday.
"Militarily there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localised 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 six-year Darfur conflict has pitted pro-government militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, demanding better representation and accusing Khartoum of neglecting the development of the region.
Khartoum says 10,000 have died in Darfur, while the United Nations puts the death count at up to 300,000.
Agwai became the latest senior figure to appear to play down the level of violence in Darfur, where the conflict has mobilised activists who accuse Khartoum of genocide.
Mostly Western campaigners and some diplomats were angered by comments in April by UNAMID's political leader Rodolphe Adada, who said Darfur had subsided into a "low-intensity conflict"; and by U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration in June who said he had seen the "remnants of genocide" in the region, stopping short, they said, of describing a current genocide.
Agwai said the fierce fighting of the early years of the conflict had subsided as rebel groups split into rival factions.
"Apart from JEM, I do not see any other group that can launch an attack on the ground," he said referring to the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel force that launched an unprecedented attack on Khartoum last year.
Agwai said JEM could attack, but did not have the manpower to hold territory. The Nigerian general added there was still a chance full blown fighting could resume.
JEM has clashed a number of times with the Sudanese army in the past months, and has said it withdrew voluntarily on two occasions to protect locals from government air attacks.
Agwai, who is due to leave Sudan on Thursday after two years at the head of the peacekeeping force, said his main regret was the lack of progress in getting a peace deal.
"I really didn't have any peace so I couldn't command a force that could really keep the peace," he said, adding that Darfur's localised insecurity could continue "for years" without a settlement. Negotiations between JEM and Khartoum in Doha are stalled and the founder of Darfur's rebel Sudan Liberation Movement is refusing to talk.
Adada, also due to step down this week, defended himself late on Wednesday against criticism from U.N. diplomats who told Reuters he had been ineffective in standing up to Khartoum.
Adada said open confrontations were not his style. "The thing is to achieve results. And UNAMID has been deployed ... You can fight and then fail or you can negotiate and get it."
At the end of June, just over 60 percent of UNAMID's planned full strength of 26,000 troops and police were on the ground in Darfur, an area roughly the size of France.
Date created : 2009-08-27