22 July 2004 Edition

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Sudanese government protects killers of Darfur


While George Bush and Tony Blair continue to wriggle off the hook of culpability for manufacturing a phoney war on Iraq, all eyes are turning to the crisis in Sudan, except theirs, of course.

For anyone who has seen the recently-released Michael Moore film, Fahrenheit 9/11, it's no wonder the oil-rich Bush regime has little interest in a poverty-stricken African country on the verge of a massive humanitarian crisis.

An international human rights group claimed on Monday that it has Sudanese government records showing that the authorities in Sudan are recruiting, arming and protecting the Arab militias engaged in mass murder in the Darfur region in a campaign that United Nations officials have called ethnic cleansing.

Officials in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, have denied reports of complicity with fighters held responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people and the displacement of more than a million. While they have answered the international outcry over the crisis with vows to disarm the militias and curb the violence, little evidence of action has followed.

Thousands of refugees are arriving in camps everyday. The camps are under severe strain - there are 57,000 people in Kalma Camp, designed to accommodate just 26,000 people.

Refugees are sleeping in the open, they are running out of food and drinking water is scarce. Floodwaters from recent rains are washing human and animal waste into water sources, raising fears of outbreaks of disease such as cholera and diarrhoea. For people, particularly children, already suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, these diseases can kill.

Opposition to the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum is neither new nor confined to Darfur, a large region that forms much of Sudan's western border with Chad and the Central African Republic. A 21-year rebellion has pitted the largely ethnic African Christian Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) against Khartoum's Arab Muslim rulers, at the cost of at least two million lives.

The conflict in Darfur has centred over land ownership, grazing rights and water sources, and commentators also point to Khartoum's general neglect of the non-Arab population in the impoverished region as the driving force behind the rebellion.

An estimated 30,000 people, primarily from the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa tribes, have died and another million have been uprooted from their homes and livelihoods. A conservative estimate is that 100,000 Sudanese have fled into Chad, where they struggle to survive in camps near the border. Hundreds of thousands of others are believed to be living "in the rough" in Sudan. Both groups remain vulnerable to continued aerial bombing by Khartoum's air force and assaults by government-backed militias. These marauding bands, collectively called the Janjaweed, also often cut off humanitarian aid. The approaching heavy seasonal rains threaten to intensify the refugees' isolation and increase the death toll dramatically.

In his latest report to the UN Security Council on the Nairobi talks, Secretary-General Kofi Annan assessed that it would be "politically unsustainable" for the UN to conduct a peacekeeping operation in one part of Sudan while fighting raged in another section. In its Resolution 1547 (2004) of 11 June, the Security Council acknowledged the situation, demanded adherence to the ceasefire, and called for international engagement in Sudan.

The UN Action came a day after the G-8 countries, in a communique issued at their Sea Island, Georgia summit, stated their "grave concern over the humanitarian, human rights, and political crisis in Darfur" and called on all sides to "fully respect the ceasefire, allow immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need". However, as we might expect, George Bush made no reference to Darfur of Sudan during his post-meeting press conference, nor did his Secretary of State Colin Powell, who appeared days later to discuss international affairs on NBC and ABC Sunday morning talk shows.

According to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, the documents they have uncovered this week show that "there is a need to go past the fiction maintained by Khartoum that there is a serious distinction between the Sudanese Government and the Janjaweed militia that the government has sponsored".

In a news conference at the United Nations, Roth criticised the delay in obtaining a Security Council resolution placing sanctions on Sudanese leaders and said the time had come to cease trusting Khartoum's claims that it will head off the problem and its pleas for time to do so.

"The Khartoum government is trying to have it both ways, maintaining a fa├žade of co-operation with the international community, but in fact doing relatively little to rein in the ongoing atrocities in Darfur," Roth said. He also displayed the Arabic documents and English translations of them and said they had been authenticated by Sudanese sources that the human rights group had found reliable in the past.

One, dated days after the 9 February public declaration by the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, to "end all military operations in Darfur", ordered provincial officials instead to increase recruitment and support fighters. Another, a month later, called for additional "provisions and ammunition". A third laid out plans for resettling lands from which black villagers had been evicted or eliminated.

Roth said his group had also unearthed evidence that instead of disarming Janjaweed fighters, the government was incorporating them into the new police and security forces created, supposedly, to combat the militias.

Roth also derided the logic of the draft UN Security Council resolution, which does not call for sanctions against Sudanese leaders, only restrictions on travel and finances of Janjaweed officials. "Freezing bank accounts and restricting travel for people who don't have bank accounts and don't travel won't do any good," he pointed out.

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