Deadline on Darfur

Sudan | The UN placates Khartoum, leaving Sudanese hungry and homeless

Issue: "Passing the Olympic torch," Sept. 4, 2004

The United Nations gave Sudan's government 30 days to stop attacks on Darfur's civilians, but as the deadline loomed both had stalled on their promises. Days after the July 30 Security Council resolution passed, UN special representative Jan Pronk placated the Khartoum regime by making elastic the 30-day notice. In the meantime, aid and rights groups reported that the government-backed Janjaweed militia was still targeting displaced Darfuris.

The Sudanese government, however, did just enough to stave off international anger-and potential trade sanctions. Officials promised the UN that they would not coerce Darfuris into returning home. A week before the deadline they also participated in talks with Darfur's two main rebel groups, mediated by the African Union. But negotiators still refused to allow African Union peacekeepers into Sudan's western state to keep security and disarm both Janjaweed and rebels. That led to a virtual stalemate.

"There is no way we can let our enemies disarm us," said Abubakar Hamid Nour, coordinator for the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement. "They are still killing us and bombing us." So far Khartoum has allowed only a piddling African Union force of about 150 troops to enter Darfur to safeguard ceasefire monitors-not civilians. Another 150 are on the way.

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At Security Council deliberations just days before the Aug. 30 deadline, members seemed content to mull interim reports from the field, but not the economic sanctions threatened against Khartoum if it didn't dismantle the Janjaweed. And while the UN fiddles, the humanitarian crisis grows. Aid agencies estimate about 2 million Darfur refugees need emergency food.

With the advent of the rainy season, roads have become impassable and large pockets of refugees inaccessible. So while the number helped has grown, so has the number needing help. "Even though the aid agencies are doing more and more, basically they're chasing a moving target," said Stephanie Bunker of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Disease is spreading fast among camps of internally displaced Darfuris. About 1,000 cases of Hepatitis E, which is waterborne, have cropped up. Flooding from heavy rains near camps is also hiking the risks of malaria.

Rebel groups began their campaign against government forces 18 months ago, seeking redress for two decades of marginalization by the Khartoum regime. Sudan's Islamist government has used the marauding Janjaweed militia to clear off black Muslims and make way for Sudanese with Arab blood in Darfur. Since February 2003, the militia has displaced more than a million, killed 30,000-50,000, raped women, and burned crops and villages.

Khartoum officials promised to end the ethnic cleansing and dispatch thousands of police to protect civilians, but rights groups now report that among them are re-badged Janjaweed militiamen. African Union monitors have reported several breaches of an April ceasefire. As late as mid-August, hundreds of refugees streamed over the border with Chad, bringing fresh reports of violence.

Most Darfuris are still too afraid to return to their villages, fearing more attacks. One woman took four bullets and saw her son shot dead when she went back to her village of Beer Dageeg. Interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she said a government official told the entire village of some 50 households in mid-July that it could return home because security forces now protected it.

When they arrived back at Beer Dageeg, she said Janjaweed militiamen were living in their homes, using their livestock, and farming their land. No policemen were in sight. The militiamen told the villagers they could stay, but had to ask permission to do anything. Then two weeks later, on Aug. 6, gunmen started firing on them. The villagers fled again.

For desperate Darfuris, the only chance of security remains the African Union, which has been trying to persuade the Sudanese government to allow 2,000 of its peacekeepers into Darfur. The United States and other countries have offered to fund such troops, but pressuring Khartoum to take them means jumpstarting a stalled international response. Meanwhile, Darfuris wonder when-and if-they'll see their homes again.


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