Sudan: The forgotten genocide
• Sudanese government accused of aiding in ethnic cleansing of Africans
• More than 1 million people driven from homes in Western Sudan
• International community fails to head pleas from Kofi Annan
"The aim is to kill as many people as possible and drive the remainder from their lands, destroying the fabric of rural society" - Report from Africa Confidential journal
Story in full IT WAS a carefully crafted show of tribal unity, complete with music and dancing, staged against the backdrop of a murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Protected by a heavy security entourage, Sudan’s president, Omar el-Bashir, arrived in Darfur’s second largest city on Wednesday to show the attending group of western diplomats and United Nations officials that calm is returning to the region since a ceasefire reached last month.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the main square and along the road to the airport. Horsemen from Arab and African tribes paraded in supposed harmony.
"In our company we have eyewitnesses from outside Sudan to see for themselves what they have heard about Darfur, about ethnic cleansing, genocide and about the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at present: We are telling them these are the people of Darfur, let them tell us if they can now differentiate between who is Arab and who is not Arab?" the president told the crowd.
The performance would have been farcical if it were not so tragic. For in truth, a decade after the world recoiled with horror from Rwanda’s genocide, government-backed Arab militias have killed tens of thousands of black Africans in the region and driven others from their homes.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations’ secretary general, warned seven weeks ago that an international force might be necessary to prevent a repeat of Rwanda’s tragedy in Darfur, an arid area the size of France that is home to both black and Arab tribes. "The risk of genocide remains frighteningly real," Mr Annan said.
Just as Rwanda’s former government gave weapons to Hutu militias to massacre Tutsi tribespeople, so Sudan’s National Islamic Front (NIF) regime has armed an Arab militia so it can kill, rape and pillage non-Arabic-speaking black Africans.
But the international community has done little to help the people, other than to debate whether events there should be described as "genocide" or "ethnic cleansing".
Mr Annan said he felt a deep sense of foreboding over the situation. He added: "Whatever terms it uses to describe the situation, the international community cannot stand idly by."
However, the international community is probably already too late to save many of the people. More than one million people have been driven from their homes, to become internal refugees. Another 120,000 have fled into Chad, a country even poorer than Sudan.
Khartoum has refused entry to Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, to Darfur in a bid to help people herded into concentration camp-like settlements.
However assistants have made clandestine trips there. He said: "I have colleagues from my office seeing, in desperation, people getting killed, gang-raped, abused and not being able to do anything to help."
The ethnic cleansing/genocide is an attempt by the NIF to replace the black population of the comparatively fertile Jebel Marra area with Arab settlers, humanitarian groups say.
"The aim is to kill as many people as possible and drive the remainder from their lands, destroying the fabric of rural society," reports the specialist journal Africa Confidential. "Proxy militias torch villages and exterminate villagers, slaughtering livestock and poisoning wells with corpses to prevent residents returning. Gang rape of women (often branded afterwards) and children reinforces the terror and helps to produce an ‘Arab’ next generation. Abduction is widespread in Darfur, with groups of women flown away by helicopter."
The spearhead of Khartoum’s assault is a 20,000-strong Arab militia called the Janjaweed (Men on Horseback). The Janjaweed frequently attacks after Sudanese MiG fighters and helicopter gunships have softened up the targets. Janjaweed fighters are paid an initial $100 (56) and given licence to loot.
"Hundreds and hundreds of villages have been destroyed, usually burned, with all property looted," says the international rights group Human Rights Watch, in a report called Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan.
"Key village assets, such as wells and water containers, have been destroyed in an apparent effort to render the villages uninhabitable."
The Human Rights Watch document is a remarkable and terrifying work of reporting, compiled in the most difficult of circumstances. It is particularly important because the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, has suppressed a report by his officials on Darfur that has described a "reign of terror" by Sudan’s government.
The slaughter in Darfur is entirely racist, as the blacks of Darfur are Sunni Muslims, the same branch of Islam as Sudan’s Arabs.
In one attack recorded by Human Rights Watch, Sudanese army soldiers and militiamen attacked the black village of Kondoli, pulling Korans from the small mosque and defecating on them before executing the imam, Ibrahim Durra, his deputy and the muezzin. Imam Abdullah, 65, the imam from the neighbouring village of Jalanga Kudumi, told Human Rights Watch: "We do not know why the government burns our mosques and kills our imams."
In the wake of the Arab militias come the shadowy and powerful Jellaba, the northern Arab Sudanese merchant class with international links as extractors and sellers of raw materials. Cattle seized by the Janjaweed from black tribes are being exported by the Jellaba to Libya, Syria and Jordan.
The International Crisis Group says Darfur represents the "potential horror story in 2004". Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister who is the ICG’s president, said: "Even if the war were to stop immediately, as many as 100,000 people will probably die in Darfur in the coming months because of the desperate humanitarian situation.
Aid workers on the Chad/Sudan border are cynical about ceasefires, which have more reality in the airwaves than on the ground.
Simon Salimini, who co-ordinates food distribution in five World Food Programme refugee camps in eastern Chad, said: "The government gave the Janjaweed carte blanche to murder and rape at will. "
Foreign governments, firmly fixed on prolonged peace talks between Khartoum and southern black rebels in Kenya, have resolutely turned a blind eye to the slaughter in Darfur.
The prize at the Kenya talks is a peace of sorts between north and south and access to Sudan’s newly discovered rich oil reserves.
The US president, George Bush, wants a Sudan accord before November’s election to offer to the Christian Right, a powerful Bush constituency that lobbies for the southern Sudan, where many US missionaries work. In these circumstances, the people of Darfur might be expendable to Sudan and to the outside world.
• For more information on Darfur click here
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