Sudan has at long last agreed to allow a combined African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force to be deployed in the country's war-torn western region of Darfur-an agreement that is being heralded as a victory for all parties involved. Darfur is no stranger to the headlines, having been plagued by an ongoing civil war since 2003. The conflict in the region has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Sudanese, with two million others driven from their homes and forced into refugee camps, all at the hands of government soldiers and allied Arab militias-the Janjaweed, in particular. Last week's accord is regarded as a last-ditch effort by the international community to avert a complete catastrophe in Africa's largest state. In a watershed moment, following months of negotiations, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accepted a proposal of a hybrid force that could include up to 19,555 troops and 3,700 members of the police force.

Until now, Mr. al-Bashir has consistently blocked the United Nations' efforts to send a larger and better-equipped force to supplement the currently under-funded 7,000-strong AU contingent stationed in the region. His change of heart carries the condition that the majority of those deployed should be African, which is a compromise to the government's initial request that all troops come from Africa. As it stands, the AU and the UN have pledged to prioritize the recruitment of African troops, without strictly limiting the force's membership.

If everything goes according to plan, an AU-UN force could arrive in Darfur by October. But when it comes to upholding peace agreements, Sudan's track record is not very encouraging. Over the past four years, since the violence in the region erupted, Khartoum has signed several agreements on western Darfur that have never been fully implemented. Spoiled peace arrangements also mark the 2005 agreement aimed at ending the 22-year North-South conflict in the country. Key issues, such as disarming regime-allied militia forces and promoting the equitable sharing of wealth, have not been fully implemented and threaten to re-ignite the conflict.

And there is widespread skepticism surrounding this latest agreement, allowing the UN to intervene in Darfur in order to assist the struggling AU forces currently stationed in the region. The reason behind this skepticism is Sudan's well-earned and dubious distinction as one of the most duplicitous and cruel governments anywhere in world. Long known for its broken promises and distortions of prevailing truths around the crisis in Darfur-and with the previous civil war in the largely animist and Christian South-the government has often contended that the issue in Darfur is one that merits the concern of only the Sudanese people.

Mr. al-Bashir is widely criticized by the international community and by fellow African leaders for his infamous under-reporting of the atrocities inflicted on the general population. To avoid public scrutiny, Mr. al-Bashir has claimed that a mere 9,000 people have died during the conflict in this impoverished western province. At the same time, he has disallowed aid agencies access to the general population for extended periods of time-agencies that more than three million people, or half of the Sudanese population, depend on for regular food aid from the United Nations and other relief organizations. In Mr. al-Bashir's defense, he has been claiming for a long time that Western aid agencies, as well as the United States and United Kingdom, were exaggerating the number of deaths resulting from the conflict as a pretext for invading his pious Muslim state to extract its much-prized oil resources.

However, a number of prominent independent Sudanese analysts and Western policy-makers, including Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, head of the Sudan Social Development Organization, are quick to point out that placing a larger, better-equipped force in the region is unlikely to result in a complete cessation of hostilities. A stronger deployment should rather be viewed as a temporary measure, designed to put more pressure on the warring parties to find a lasting solution to the civil conflict in the war-ravaged region. Meanwhile, the new head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, has argued that the AU peacekeepers were quite effective when they were first stationed in Darfur but, after a few months, the security situation worsened with the breakdown of the peace accord in 2006, and it has since been relegated to becoming an ineffective and powerless force, unable to protect the civilians from Arab militias. Both Mr. Adam and Mr. Zoellick agree that an extended international force in Darfur could not be expected to control an area equivalent to the size of France and Belgium combined.

Ultimately, peace in the troubled region will be secured neither by the barrel of a gun, nor by a more visible AU-UN hybrid force. The key is to achieve a full-fledged, binding peace agreement between all parties involved in the conflict. The viability and success of such an agreement depends on its ability to address the gravity of the situation and the root causes of the conflict. Such causes include discrimination against the indigenous African farmers and the continuous neglect of Darfur by the Arab government in Khartoum, as well as the long-standing hostility between the Arab herders and the black indigenous farmers over scarce fertile lands. Whereas past peace agreements have failed in bridging the diverse interests and immense differences between local tribes and the Sudanese government, there is a glimmer of hope that peace for Darfur is not merely an out-of-reach mirage in the desert.

This time there seems to be some cautious optimism-especially upon reflection of the recent compromise by the Khartoum government in allowing a UN force, coupled with the unrelenting pressure from the international community to endeavor to find a lasting solution in Darfur. The fragile peace achieved two years ago in the North-South agreement continues to serve as both a refreshing reminder and an important lesson for the beleaguered rebel groups in Darfur: peace is worth emulating and the Khartoum regime is not invincible, but rather can be persuaded to share some of its oil-generated income to promote development in its poverty-stricken western province. In a country that is fast becoming known for its broken promises, the Sudanese are hoping against hope for peace in Darfur.

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