29 Apr 2007
On Sunday April 29 (the estimated 4th anniversary of the commencement of the Darfur crisis) thousands of people gathered in several capitals around the world to militate against the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur. The global day of action against the conflict in Darfur was organized by a coalition of rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to remind people that time is running out to save the people of this troubled land. Demonstrators in London, Berlin, Rome, Brussels, Stockholm appeared with hourglasses filled with fake blood to symbolize the blood flowing in the Darfur.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 people (Sudan’s gov’t says 9000) have lost their lives and more than 2.5 million others have been displaced since the conflict began. Sunday’s campaign brought out sympathizers from all works of life. Celebrities like Elton John, Mick Jagger, George Clooney, Bob Geldorf and Mia Farrow issued a supportive statement reminding the international community of her responsibilities. “We have come together to say that the time is up---The international community must end its stalling and take decisive action.”
The conflict started when non-Arab rebels rose up in arms against the central government for marginalizing them. The Arab led government’s response was to team up with the Janjaweed Arab militia to wage a war (akin to ethnic cleansing) on their non-Arab compatriots. Typically, the Sudanese army initiates a bombing campaign on Darfur villages from the air coordinated by ground action by the Janjaweed on horses or camels. Terrorized villagers are then forced to flee while others are killed and raped before the invaders loot belongings and burn the remaining houses. The Sudanese government has always denied arming the Janjaweed.
When the atrocities became unacceptable, the African Union sent in a 7000 man under-equipped and under-funded peacekeeping force to try and protect the civilian victims. Their presence on the ground could not halt the killings and rapes. The Sudanese government has repeatedly refused to authorize the deployment of a more robust UN peacekeeping force. As time went by, the situation degenerated and is now taking a regional dimension with more than 230,000 Sudanese refugees now in neighboring Chad Republic. Military skirmishes have occurred along the Chad/Sudan border and also along the border between Central African Republic and Sudan causing further population displacements.
As if these problems were not bad enough, Aid workers are increasingly finding it difficult to carry out their work of assisting refugees. Some of them have come under attack and lost their lives. Others have lost their vehicles and aid items to marauding gunmen. On the other hand, the Sudanese government is not seen to be very cooperative with humanitarian personnel and agencies working to help the refugees. For example, early this month, Sudanese soldiers blocked the UN Humanitarian chief John Holmes from visiting the Kassab refugee camp and tapes were confiscated from UN camera crew. Last week, it was reported that the government was blocking the delivery of 100,000 tonnes of sorghum cereals to Darfur refugees based on an unsubstantiated allegation that the cereals were genetically modified. Also, government bureaucracy usually frustrates the work of relief workers. Sometimes there are delays in issuing permits to them or the permits are withdrawn.
Meanwhile there were talks on the Darfur crisis in the Libyan capital of Tripoli this weekend. The meeting brought together representatives of the African Union, the UN, the Arab League, the EU and over a dozen countries including Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, the U.S, Britain, China, Canada, Russia, France, the Netherlands and Norway. It was reported that Sudan has agreed that 3500 UN troops be deployed- far short of the over 20,000 needed. In November 2006 Sudan had accepted a similar idea of deploying a UN-AU “hybrid force” only to renege later. While receiving delegates in Sirte (Gaddafi’s hometown) before the Tripoli talks, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, known for his incoherent foreign policy objectives, opposed the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. Blaming the Darfur rebels, Gaddafi said; “I see that the rebel side in the region is the one which endeavors to implicate the world in this issue. It is not in the interest of the world to intervene in an issue in which one of the parties doesn’t want a solution.”
The hope is that an all-inclusive political solution could be found in which all parties implicated in the crisis will adhere to. Judging from previous negotiations, it is certainly a difficult task. It seems likely that things will get worse in the Darfur before they get better.
Njei Moses Timah