Many displaced Darfuris live in camps across the border in Chad
The six-year war between forces loyal to Sudan’s government and rebels in Darfur has effectively ended, the UN’s military commander in the region says.
General Martin Agwai, who is leaving his post this week, said the vicious fighting of earlier years had subsided as rebel groups split into factions.
He says the region now suffers more from low-level disputes and banditry.
The UN says 300,000 people have died in Darfur, but the Sudanese government puts the figure at 10,000.
Almost three million people are said to have been displaced by the fighting.
Gen Agwai, who led a joint UN and African Union peacekeeping force known as Unamid, said the region now suffered more from “security issues” than full-blown conflict.
DISPLACED IN DARFUR
2006: 547,420 people fled their homes
2009 (first six months): 137,000
Total to date: 2.7m
Source: UN humanitarian agency Ocha
“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,” he said.
Gen Agwai said only one rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), posed a real threat but even it no longer had the ability to conquer and hold territory.
Sudan analyst Gill Lusk said his comments were “unhelpful” because they could lead people to believe that Darfur’s problems had been solved.
“There has been a large decline in fighting in Darfur, and that is undoubtedly a good thing for the people,” she told the BBC.
“But it is the government that turns the tap on and off – they can restart the violence whenever they want.”
An aid worker in Sudan also questioned Gen Agwai’s statement.
“If that is true, why do some parts of Darfur remain out of bounds, even for Unamid?” she asked.
Gen Agwai insists the real problem now is political.
BBC Sudan correspondent James Copnall says that view is shared by many within Sudan.
Although the intensity of the violence has reduced, there is still little prospect of a peace deal.
Last week, US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said the existence of 26 different rebel factions was a major obstacle to reaching a peace agreement with the government.
He brokered talks which led to four groups agreeing to work together, calling the deal a “very strong foundation for rebel unification”.
The war broke out in the arid and impoverished region early in 2003 when rebel groups including Jem attacked government targets, accusing Khartoum of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.
Pro-government militiamen hit back with brutal force, which the US and some rights groups have labelled genocide.
Khartoum denies supporting the militias, but the international court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant earlier this year for President Omar al-Bashir accusing him of war crimes.