afrol News, 22 November - At a mini-summit on Sudan in Libya, Eritrea's unpredictable President Issayas Afewerki was urged to mediate in the Darfur conflict and its spillover into Chad and the Central African Republic. Eritrea earlier supplied arms to Darfuri rebels, but has now reconciled with the Khartoum regime. While Sudan's allies favour this mediation, others fear it is a trick to swap mediations on Somalia and Darfur.
Egypt's presidential spokesman Soliman Awwad today revealed details of yesterday's summit in Tripoli, which was aimed at finding a solution to Darfur crisis and settling the conflict between the Sudan and both Chad and Central Africa. Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi had managed to gather the presidents of Sudan, Egypt, Chad, the Central African Republic and the remoter Eritrea to the talks. Darfur rebels were however not represented.
According to the Egyptian spokesman, the main conflict line at the mini-summit had been between Sudan's President Omar Hassan al Bashir on one side and Chad's President Idriss Déby and Central African President François Bozizé on the other side. The two accuse Sudan of supporting rebel movements destabilising their countries, using bases in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan.
More interesting than the three conflicting Presidents, however, were the roles of the other participants invited to Tripoli. Most importantly, all of them support Sudan's view that there should not be deployed UN troops in Darfur, defying a UN Security Council resolution. Even Egypt - the only observer country not conflicting openly with the West - doubts the needs for UN troops. President Hosni Mubarak called for "not fabricating a crisis in Darfur through the hot debate" on UN troops.
Also Libya and Eritrea - the two countries present not directly affected by the Darfur crisis - are strongly against a peacemaking mission in western Sudan. Both countries are trying to rally around the Khartoum regime on an ideological basis, because it is known to "defy Western aggression" and values by defying a UN troops deployment. Mr Ghaddafi and President Afewerki put great emphasis on giving a public image of defying the West - although more in rhetoric than in their capacity to translate this into deeds.
Remarkable was also who was not invited to Tripoli - Ethiopia, one of the affected countries of the crisis in Sudan. Indeed, the Libyan leader, besides inviting the Central African and Chadian Presidents, had made sure only close allies were present to influence Sudan's African foes. Egypt, Libya and Eritrea are all shamed in a UN report for allegedly arming the Somali Islamists, who in turn have declared a holy war against Ethiopia; Eritrea's main enemy. Sudan is also believed to support Somalia's Islamists.
Not surprisingly, the Tripoli summit did not provide solutions for the rebel activities in Chad and the Central African Republic, as Sudan had "categorically rejected" allegations of supporting these rebels. The "neutral" state leaders therefore had seen no reason to follow up on this, referring to non-aggression agreements made earlier.
Presidents Déby and Bozizé however were pressured into giving the impression all were agreeing there was no need for a UN force in Darfur. Referring to all leaders united in Tripoli, the chief Libyan diplomat in charge of African affairs, Ali Triki, said: "They want an African solution to their problems without external intervention and without putting pressure on Sudan." Both Chad and the Central African Republic however had preferred a powerful peacemaking mission in Darfur.
The last trick by the "neutral" leaders was to propose one of their own as the new mediator for the regional conflicts surrounding Darfur. Eritrean President Afewerki was praised for having played "an important role within the framework of the Eritrean mediation between Khartoum government and Al-Sharq Front which culminated in signing a peace agreement on last 14 October," spokesman Awwad said. The Eritrean President was looking forward to "continuing the Eritrean mediation regarding the situation in Darfur," he added.
At a first glimpse, President Afewerki could seem like a perfect mediator as he has the best of connections to both sides. Previously, when in conflict with Sudan, he armed and trained the Darfuri rebels and the Al-Sharq Front, rebels in eastern Sudan close to the Eritrean border. Faced with increasing international isolation, however, he saw the need for peace with Sudan and forced the Al-Sharq Front to make peace with Khartoum. By now, Sudan and Eritrea have grown into allies.
There is therefore much scepticism towards Eritrean mediation in Darfur. Some even suspect Eritrea and Sudan have agreed to swap mediations in their respective conflicts to assure solutions favourable to them, or no solution at all. To the great frustration of the transitional government of Somalia, Sudan is mediating in the Somali conflict, which is turning out a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. A principal demand in the mediation is the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Meanwhile, Eritrea is to mediate on the Darfur conflict.
Eritrea and Sudan already three weeks ago announced President Afewerki's mediation in the Darfur conflict, causing scepticism among Darfuri rebels. Previously, the rebels had felt safe and welcome in the Eritrean capital Asmara, but since Eritrean-Sudanese relations thawed, they have felt insecure in the city. Rumours have circulated that Eritrean authorities have started to prevent and hinder the movement of Darfuri rebel leaders from Asmara.
Last week, one of the most important Darfuri rebel leaders - Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nur of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) - even alleged that there had been attempt to assassinate him in Asmara after Eritrean authorities prevented him from boarding a plane leaving for Europe. Mr Nur is seen as the toughest opponent to the Khartoum government. While Darfuri rebels welcomed the relocation of negotiations from Nigeria's Abuja to Asmara in May, they now avoid the Eritrean capital for security reasons.
Not only the Darfuri rebels are sceptical towards Eritrean mediation. At a meeting between the UN and the African Union (AU) held in Addis Ababa last week, the two bodies agreed to send a mixed peacekeeping mission and insisted that any Darfur peace mediation must to be under UN-AU leadership. Both the AU and the UN forcefully rejected any Eritrean mediation.
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