rom The Guardian (on-line), August 11, 2006
“Violence continues to escalate in Sudan: Can we avert a catastrophe?”
by Eric Reeves
Darfur continues its inexorable slide toward cataclysmic human destruction. Despite the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed in Abuja, Nigeria on May 5, violence continues to escalate. Indeed, much of the violence is a direct result of shortcomings in the Abuja agreement, particularly the failure to provide meaningful international guarantees and guarantors.
The most terrifying consequence of this violence is the threat posed to the world’s largest humanitarian operation. Jan Egeland, head of UN aid operations, put the matter bluntly on August 10: “It’s going from real bad to catastrophic in Darfur.” Aid workers were attacked and killed in unprecedented numbers in July, and all signs are that this pattern will continue.
Humanitarian access has been severely attenuated, and more than 25% of those the UN classifies as “conflict-affected” are beyond the reach of all assistance; in some areas the figure is much greater. This affected population in Darfur, and eastern Chad, now approaches 4 million; in other words, a million people no longer have any access to food assistance, medical care, or adequate clean water. Wholesale humanitarian evacuations draw daily nearer.
All this occurs against a backdrop of rapidly rising malnutrition rates, especially among children under five; an outbreak of cholera, this in the midst of the heaviest part of the rainy season; continuing large-scale civilian displacement; and intolerable conditions amidst many of the camps for displaced persons. The camps themselves are cauldrons of rage and despair, now often turned against the African Union (AU) forces supposedly protecting civilians and humanitarians.
But the hopelessly ineffective AU is unable to enter the vast majority of camps for fear of attack, and has mounted many fewer patrols in recent months. The AU mission is currently slated to end at the end of September, but the UN has still not authorized a successor force.
Although UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently presented plans for an ambitious UN peace support operation in Darfur, the Khartoum government has for months adamantly refused to accept any UN force. This refusal has been consistent, and was recently reiterated by senior members of the National Islamic Front (which has renamed itself, innocuously, the National Congress Party).
The NIF – which stands accused of genocide by not only the US government but by senior officials of the German and British governments, as well as the parliament of the European Union – has no interest in seeing the Darfur crisis resolved. Indeed, current “genocide by attrition” completes the ambitions more violently in evidence in 2003-2004, when the regime’s regular military forces coordinated with the notorious Arab Janjaweed militia to destroy over 80% of all non-Arab villages (primarily those of the Fur, the Massalit, and the Zaghawa).
Even so, the international community continues to reassure Khartoum that the UN will enter Darfur only with the regime’s consent.
Perversely, the one rebel faction to sign onto the DPA with Khartoum was that of Minni Minawai – a Zaghawa whose forces have been consistently implicated in wide-ranging atrocities, especially against other African ethnic groups. Minawi recently became “Assistant to the President,” fourth-ranking position in the merely notional “Government of National Unity” in Khartoum, a fig-leaf for continued NIF control of Sudanese national wealth and power.
Recent reports from the ground make clear that Minawi’s rebel faction is actively coordinating with Khartoum’s regular military forces in attacks on civilians and other rebel forces that have not signed the DPA. In effect, the DPA is serving as cover for escalating internecine fighting, especially in northern Darfur.
Absent robust and urgent international humanitarian intervention, there is every reason to believe that we have entered the most destructive phase of genocidal destruction in Darfur. More than half a million people have already died; as many more could die in the coming months.
The world’s choice is to look at Darfur through the lens of Iraq – or Rwanda. The expedient consensus is clearly to do the former; but Darfur’s realities are shamefully closer to those of the latter.
[Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan]