High noon in Darfur

UN officials always describe their nightmare scenario as “another Srebrenica”: peacekeepers standing by as civilians are massacred.  Their dream scenario is, of course, for the presence of blue helmets to ward off violence.  Last year’s fighting in the DRC came dangerously close to the nightmare: thinly-spread UN troops remained on their bases as thousands of civilians were forced to flight.  But there were no large-scale massacres (none that made the media anyway), so the UN survived to peacekeep another day.  Now there’s news of a courageous stand by the UN in Darfur:

Peacekeepers have refused to leave a rebel-held town in Darfur, despite warnings from the Sudanese government that an attack is imminent. About 5,000 civilians took shelter at the UN-African Union base after the government said the army was preparing to take Muhajiriya from rebels. A spokesperson for the peacekeeping force – called Unamid – said they would not leave civilians unprotected.

Mediators are talking to both sides to try to prevent more fighting.

The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) seized Muhajiriya two weeks ago, sparking fierce fighting, including air strikes.

“We are not going to leave while there are thousands of displaced people around our camp,” Unamid spokesman Noureddine Mezni told Reuters news agency. “The Sudanese government should be aware that their actions are endangering civilians and Unamid.”

On Sunday, Khartoum had warned peacekeepers to leave the town. “We are not ordering them around, we are asking them,” said Akuei Bona Malwal, Sudan’s ambassador to the African Union. “It’s sort of like informing them: ‘Something will be happening here,'” the AP news agency reports him as saying.

Meanwhile, Tahir al-Feki, of the Jem rebels, said they were expecting “a large attack.”

“They [government forces] are bringing tanks so they must be preparing to pound the town,” he told Reuters.

This may augur the organization’s redemption – or a catastrophe.