At the recently paved airport in South Darfur, an unmarked white Antonov, a Russian-built military transport, waited with its rear loading freight ramp down. At some signal a long line of Darfur's homeless, all women and children clenching a few belongings to their heads, emerged from tall grass by the runway's edge, ran across the tarmac, up the ramp and into the plane. Why are they being taken away? I asked. Who is taking them? Where are they going?
No one seemed to know. One Sudanese official shrugged his shoulders and said, "It's a humanitarian mission."
Darfurians living on the outskirts of Khartoum say that residents are relocated forcibly some 600 miles from their homeland by the government, but no one knows how big such operations may be or how often such planeloads fly.
The scene outside Niyala last November-with its unanswered questions-surfaces again with release of a confidential report by a five-expert panel dispatched by the UN Security Council to Darfur beginning last October. A diplomat asked that the report be made public after reading its stark findings.
The panel produced photographs of Antonovs painted white and made to look like UN aircraft. It said they had been used to bomb and carry out surveillance of villages in Darfur. It also said such planes had been used to smuggle heavy weapons into Darfur-in clear violation of a UN arms embargo.
At the news, President Bush announced April 18 his intent to tighten U.S. sanctions against Sudan: "It is evil we're now seeing in Sudan and we're not going to back down."
With further confirmation that the government of Sudan is complicit in genocide in its own Darfur region, Sudanese officials signaled last week, after months of stalling, that they will allow an initial contingent of 3,000 UN peacekeepers into Darfur. Perhaps the Sudanese government sees that questions eventually do have answers.