Khartoum seen as losing control of war in Darfur

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KUTUM, Sudan — Three years after it tried to quell a rebellion in its western Darfur region, Sudan’s government is losing control of the war, its army increasingly demoralized and reluctant to fight on.

Sitting with his AK-47 at the guardhouse outside the Fata Burno camp for internally displaced people in north Darfur last week, Cpl. Mohammed Adam Dahir said the army no longer had the stomach for the fight.

“Even I hate myself, being involved in this war,” he said. “Everyone wants it to end. I totally condemn what is going on.”

The war, intended to suppress rebels seeking autonomy in Darfur, has left hundreds of thousands dead and more than 2.5 million people displaced, many at the hands of a nomadic Arab militia known as the Janjaweed — literally “devils on horseback.”

“At the beginning of the war, I was there. I saw so many atrocities. I was helping to bury the dead,” Cpl. Dahir said. “I don’t want to stay in the army. I don’t like it here, because there is injustice and inequality. There is no protection for the civilians.”

Cpl. Dahir’s words reinforce the comments of Jan Pronk, the U.N. special envoy who was expelled from Sudan last week after writing on his Web log that army morale was plummeting after two battlefield defeats.

The Sudanese military “has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya,” he wrote.

“The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles with many wounded and many taken as prisoner,” Mr. Pronk wrote on Oct. 14.

“The morale in the government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia.”

Government forces also appeared to be getting the worst of a recent battle with rebels in northern Darfur, when a reporter accompanied a fuel convoy of African Union peacekeeping troops that strayed into the middle of the firefight.

Bullets kicked up the dust in front of an armored car and another round flashed overhead, close enough for its high-pitched whine to be heard. As mortar rounds exploded ahead, an injured government soldier crawled toward his machine-gun truck, while another lay dead in front of a battered yellow truck.

The African Union is struggling to at least limit the violence in Darfur with 7,000 soldiers. But hamstrung by obstacles placed in its path by Khartoum, it has neither the manpower nor the resources for the job and cannot move along the roads without permission from the rebels or the government.

In August, the U.N. Security Council voted to send a 22,500-strong peacekeeping force to Darfur to take over when the African Union’s mandate runs out on Dec. 31. But few think it will meet that deadline, even if Khartoum drops its opposition.

Interviews with Sudanese troops on the ground suggest the collapsing morale of government forces may do more to change the course of the war than any outside intervention.

Cpl. Dahir, 47, joined the army 18 years ago and should be demobilizing to rejoin the wife and five children he rarely sees. However, his commanders say there are not enough soldiers, and he must stay on.

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