Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"It's Time to Save Darfur"

It's time to save Darfur
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Sudanese government made a false promise to protect the people in Darfur, and has threatened guerrilla war if other nations try to help them. Courage must replace patience in dealing with Khartoum.

Under the cover of a 21-year civil war, the Arab Islamist government in Khartoum has been using bandit gangs called Janjaweed to drive black people in its western territory from their homes. The gangs are made up of nomads threatened by desertification and who are loyalists of President Omar el-Bashir; the farmers in Darfur have land Mr. el-Bashir wants to give them. The farmers are also Muslim, though not generally Islamists.

With support from government helicopters and bombers, the Janjaweed have rampaged across Darfur for over a year. The villages are burned, the wells poisoned, the women raped en masse. Disease is spreading and famine looms over more than a million people driven from their homes. Thirty thousand people are dead and hundreds of thousands more are doomed unless they are protected and fed.

The U.S. Congress has declared the attacks a genocide, the European Union is threatening sanctions, and the African Union is having a meeting next week. It concedes a "powerful sense of urgency," which, by its standards, is a bitter condemnation. (The U.S. Congress is showing its sense of urgency by asking President George Bush to consider sending troops, with or without multilateral approval.)

Britain, Sudan's former colonial ruler, has claimed a "moral responsibility" to help, and might send as many as 5,000 troops. But if it does, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail has as much as threatened a terrorist backlash: "You know what is going to happen in one or two months, these troops are going to be considered by the people of Darfur as occupying forces, and you'll have the same incidents you are facing in Iraq," he said last week in Paris.

In other words, we own this place and we own its people, and we will do with them as we wish. If you try to stop us, we will fight you and we will kill your aid workers.

Under intense pressure from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. el-Bashir pledged to rein in the Janjaweed starting July 3, but according to Jan Pronk, Mr. Annan's special envoy to Sudan, Khartoum has made "no progress whatsoever" doing so.

The United States and Britain are pushing a Security Council resolution to impose trade sanctions, but they're having trouble getting it passed. Pakistan and China, for instance, are hesitant to interfere with Sudan's oil trade, which supplies about 300,000 barrels a day to Asia, partly pumped by a Chinese company.

The critics of the war in Iraq, those who said that was all about oil, are silent. France, the great multilateralist, has given just $6 million to a UN fund for Darfur, which Mr. Annan says needs $350 million. (The Americans have found $130 million so far.)

But for the aid to mean anything, the people of Darfur must have security, which Mr. Ismail has indicated the Sudanese government will deny them. These are the words of both a terrorist and a promoter of genocide, not a man who will be swayed by threats of trade sanctions. The world has dithered and innocents have died. It's time to find the nerve to act.

Meanwhile, the brutality continues.

AU monitors declared on Wednesday that government-backed Arab militiamen chained and burned alive civilians in a raid on a market in Darfur.

"The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases chaining them and burning them alive," said a report released in Nairobi by AU ceasefire observers in the region.

The report said the African Union monitors went to Suleia village, where the militia raid occurred July 3.

It said the raid was carried out by "militia elements believed to be Janjaweed."

"This was an unwarranted and unprovoked attack on the civilian population," the report said. However, it could not substantiate allegations that Sudanese government forces took part in the raid alongside the Janjaweed.