The critical conditions that continue to prevail in Darfur are causing immense suffering to its people. Both sides of the conflict -- the government of Sudan and its allied forces, as well as all the opposition groups in Darfur -- must understand that civilians should no longer fall victim to their political disputes.
The Sudanese government's consent to the deployment of the hybrid UN/African Union (AU) mission, which aims to keep peace in the region, is of course a welcome development. But the mandate of this mission must be strong enough to allow for full protection of the civilian population. Moreover, the force must have sufficient manpower, capacity, and funding to put this vital objective into practice efficiently. The countries and institutions that have committed additional funds in order to help secure the success of this mission -- notably France, Spain, and the European Commission -- should all be applauded.
It is important for international actors to assure Sudan's government that the UN/AU mission will not strive for regime change in the country or otherwise exceed its peacekeeping mandate. At the same time, the Sudanese government must be fully aware that only by adhering to past commitments and by cooperating in helping to prepare, deploy, and maintain the mission will the international community be encouraged to continue its support.
As for the Darfur opposition, the recent efforts by some of its leaders to overcome fragmentation and re-unify their movement are a welcome development. It is essential that all major opposition groups achieve agreement about their aims and negotiating positions. Only then can they act as credible partners of the international community and the Sudanese government. All parties to the conflict must realize that, ultimately, there is no way to end their dispute other than through an equitable and sustainable peace agreement endorsed by all stakeholders. The return of internally displaced persons and due care for them must be a core component of any such arrangement.
Responsible people around the globe, particularly politicians and journalists, must remain focused on Darfur. For the grievances and harm suffered daily by millions of victims and refugees remain as gruesome as ever, notwithstanding the fatigue from the prolonged conflict that some may perceive. Now that there are signs of possible stabilization in the months to come, it is time to start preparing for increased volumes of international reconstruction and development assistance, in addition to humanitarian aid.
Economically advanced countries in particular should meet their global responsibility and help Darfur move toward renewal and prosperity. This increased assistance should emerge from an extension or re-focusing of national development cooperation programs. Additionally, international arrangements aiming at effective use of synergies should be carefully explored.
In facilitating the complex relations between the international community and the local actors in Darfur, the UN currently plays an indispensable role and must be actively supported. China in particular should use its considerable influence in Sudan to bring the country's decision-makers to a definitive peaceful settlement of the dispute.
Moreover, because Darfur is emblematic of wider difficulties in the world, the international community must look beyond the immediate circumstances of the conflict and increase efforts to deal with the threats that have played a role in the disaster, such as climate change and environmental degradation. Indeed, the accelerating expansion of deserts will likely lead to a decrease of agricultural yields from the surrounding areas, acute deterioration of the availability of water, and possibly to further conflicts and displacement of people.