Senior UN officials describe the situation in Darfur as “spinning out of control,” on the verge of “all out war,” and marked by “unprecedented insecurity” for civilians and humanitarians. And still there is no international action remotely commensurate with these extraordinarily dire accounts. On the contrary, we see only continued posturing and pleading, even as the lives of many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur and Chad have moved into the cross-hairs of a sweeping new offensive by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime. This offensive has a number of significant and interrelated objectives:
 Supporting, logistically and materially, the Chadian rebels who at the beginning of February assaulted N’Djamena, capital of Chad, in an effort to topple the regime of Idriss Dby. Khartoum’s goal is to use the rebel assault as a means of halting Dby’s provision of sanctuary and material assistance to the Darfuri rebels, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement;
 Khartoum calculates that if Dby could be toppled—still a distinct possibility, though militarily he seems to have prevailed for the present—a successor regime of Chadian rebels would not only halt aid to Darfuri rebels, but in seeking better relations with Sudan and Libya would also halt the deployment of the UN-authorized European Union force for Eastern Chad (EUFOR). EUFOR did temporarily suspend its deployment in response to the violence in and around N’Djamena, including the key airport, but Reuters and others report today that deployment has resumed. For a variety of reasons, Khartoum greatly fears the presence of a militarily capable force just across its western border, and thus adjacent to areas in which the regime has just engaged in a wide range of atrocity crimes;
 Khartoum continues to delay, in the most consequential ways, deployment of the UN/African Union “hybrid” force for Darfur (UNAMID). Although a “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) has now been signed by the regime, its willingness to abide by the terms of this agreement must be judged by the level of compliance with previous agreements. There is, then, reason for the deepest skepticism, even as the regime still refuses to agree to a UN-proposed roster of troop- and civilian police-contributing countries, seriously compromising UNAMID’s ability to deploy key elements of the planned force in timely fashion. While present UNAMID personnel have made very small steps in the six weeks they have enjoyed UN authority in Darfur (particularly in policing a few of the camps), there has been no significant improvement in security. On the contrary, overall security in Darfur and Eastern Chad grows only more threatening to civilians and humanitarians. There have been extensive humanitarian evacuations in all regions of Chad following the Khartoum-backed rebel assault, accompanied by desperate pleas for assistance. Much of Darfur remains completely inaccessible or only partially accessible to humanitarian operations, which will almost certainly continue to contract because of increasing insecurity.
 In assaults that have been likened by humanitarian workers to the worst of the genocidal violence of 2003-2004, Khartoum has unleashed a wave of attacks on villages and towns north of el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur. Although these areas fell to the Justice and Equality Movement in December and January, there is no evidence that the rebels were themselves in the villages and towns when they endured massive air and ground attacks by Khartoum’s regular forces, its Janjaweed militia allies, and both helicopter gunships and fixed-wing military aircraft.
In sum, Khartoum’s largest ambition is to prevent Darfuri rebels from receiving either sanctuary or arms from N’Djamena; to ensure that chaos prevails on both sides of the Chad/Darfur border except where its own military control can be established; and to delay as long as possible the deployment of an effective UNAMID while it seeks to realize the genocidal ambitions that have now been in evidence for five years.
Although violence in Darfur has certainly become more chaotic in these years, and the cross-border nature of that violence is of extreme concern, it is wrong to suggest this makes analogies to fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia the appropriate ones. A central regime, effectively claiming “national sovereignty,” controls the security dynamic with vicious calculation in Darfur, and to a considerable extent in Chad. Chaos in Darfur, as Human Rights Watch suggests in the title of a key recent report (November 2007), is “Chaos by Design.” The international community has a vast amount of leverage with the central regime, which has repeatedly refused to comply with UN Security Council resolutions; and yet international actors, preeminently China, have failed to expend that leverage in consequential ways—even in the face of Khartoum’s most contemptuous defiance. This alone disables superficial comparison with DRC or Somalia.
If we wish to understand the genocidal ambitions of Khartoum, and its refusal to be constrained in any way by what amounts to little more than international moral exhortation, the recent attacks on civilians north of el-Geneina provide unambiguous evidence of a deliberate effort to destroy the non-Arab people of this region, primarily the Erengaas such.
ATTACKS NORTH OF EL-GENEINA, WEST DARFUR
Since late 2007, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has brought increasing military pressure to bear around the capital of West Darfur, el-Geneina, less that 25 kilometers from the border with Chad. The most concerted pressure has come from the areas north and northwest of el-Geneina, also extremely close to the Chad/Darfur border. JEM captured in this time period the towns of Silea (55 kilometers north of el-Geneina), Sirba (35 kilometers north of el-Geneina), and Abu Suruj (40 kilometers northwest of el-Geneina). They encountered little military resistance and celebrated the defection to their cause of significant numbers of Arab militia forces. Other military activity in the area included Chad’s bombing of Chadian rebel groups based southwest of el-Geneina, a reported Chadian build-up of forces near Adr, just across the border from el-Geneina, and Khartoum’s own military build-up in el-Geneina itself, where insecurity has completely restricted the movement of humanitarian operations and personnel.
Almost simultaneously, out of this explosive confrontation of military forces came both the strike against N’Djamena by the Khartoum-backed rebels, culminating in the battle for Chad’s capital city far to the west (February 1-3, 2008), and the strike northwards by Khartoum’s regular military forces and Janjaweed militia allies, supported by massive, indiscriminate aerial assaults on Silea, Sirba, and Abu Suruj. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of rebel presence in these towns at the time of attack, the destruction and displacement of civilians was overwhelming. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports (February 10, 2008):
“Up to 12,000 ‘terrified’ refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region have fled across the border to neighboring Chad after the latest air strikes by the Sudanese military and thousands more may be on their way.” [ ]
“Most of the refugees so far are men, [UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux] said. But the arrivals are telling UNHCR that ‘thousands of women and children are on their way’ to Chad, she added.” [ ]
“Caux said UNHCR was looking at way to assist people still trapped in the three towns bombed by Sudan. ‘Thousands of households have been directly affected by the bombings and attacks,’ she said.” (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], February 10, 2008)
The extremely reliable Opheera McDoom of Reuters reports ([dateline: el-Fasher], February 10, 2008) that Khartoum’s attacks “forced an estimated 200,000 from their homes.” [Correction, February 13, 2008: subsequent humanitarian estimates put the figure for newly displaced persons in the range of 50,000-60,000] Eyewitness accounts by civilians are horrific:
“A refugee from Sileah told UNHCR that ground attacks by the Janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese Antonov aircraft, nearly destroyed Abu Surouj and reportedly caused heavy damage to four camps for internally displaced people.”
Attacks on camps for Internally Displaced Persons have a grim history in West Darfur: in September 2005, in what was then an unprecedented act, Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies attacked the completely undefended Aro Sharow IDP camp, just north of present fighting. 5,000 civilians were forced to flee, dozens died in the assault—and there were no consequences other that futile criticism from the African Union in Darfur.
Other details from wire reports give us the only glimpse we have of the scale of civilian destruction, as most of these areas are far too insecure for a significant humanitarian presence. UNAMID received preliminary reports, “confirming that an estimated 200 casualties have resulted from the fighting, and the town of Abu Suruj, which is home to thousands of civilians, has been burned to the ground” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], February 10, 2008).
Only time will reveal the full extent of the damage, if UNAMID conducts an effective investigation. For now Reuters also reports:
“A tribal leader from the area, Ibrahim el-Nur, told Reuters on Sunday he had names of some 44 killed in Sirba town alone. He was still waiting for initial figures from Abu Surouj. Witnesses say they saw nine people killed in Suleia. All three towns are in West Darfur near the border with Chad. Residents say the total death toll could be as high as 200 but they could not yet reach all the bodies. About 200,000 were forced to flee their homes as a result of the attacks. [The Government of] Sudan has banned international aid workers from the area in the past few months so reports are difficult to verify.” (Reuters [dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], February 10, 2008)
“About 200,000 were forces to flee their homes as a result of the attack”: Darfur has so numbed us to such staggering statistics of violent displacement that we can barely conceive the reality of almost 3 million internally displaced persons and refugees. [Again, a correction, February 13, 2008: subsequent humanitarian estimates put the figure for newly displaced persons in the range of 50,000-60,000] This is approximately half Darfur’s pre-war population. Most of those displaced have of course lost everything to the destruction and looting by militia raiders and Khartoum’s regular troops.
Forceful assessments come not from the UN or UN member states, but the human rights community. Amnesty International reports:
“According to reports from people living in the area, nine military aeroplanes from [Khartoum’s] Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) were seen overhead, described as being two MIG [fighter jets], two Antonovs, and five [attack] helicopters. The attacks started at 10am [Friday, February 8, 2008] and were continuing at sunset. The number of civilians in Sirba and Abu Suruj has grown due to an influx of internally displaced people who have fled there after earlier attacks elsewhere. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), an armed group in Darfur opposing the Government of Sudan, seized control of the area in December 2007. It remains unclear whether JEM fighters are still in the area.”
“JEM fighters often station themselves within civilian areas. Attacks by Janjawid and SAF almost invariably fail to discriminate between civilian and armed groups. On 24 January , Janjawid and SAF forces carried out an indiscriminate attack on the town of Saraf Jidad near Abu Suruj. Some 24 people, mostly farmers, including the Fursha (chief) of the area, were killed in the attack.”
Human Rights Watch minced no words, highlighting also the previous attack on Saraf Jidad, a town of 15,000:
“The government [of Sudan] and allied militias have responded [to JEM control of these towns] by indiscriminately attacking villages without distinguishing between the civilian population and rebel combatants, in violation of international humanitarian law.” [ ]
“The attacks were carried out by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese ground troops, supported by attack helicopters and aerial bombardments. ‘The Sudanese government is once again showing its total disregard for the safety of civilians,’ said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘This return to large-scale attacks on villages will be catastrophic for Darfur’s civilians, because they’re completely unprotected.'” (Human Rights Watch press release [New York], February 10, 2008)
It must be borne in mind that existing UN resolutions ban all military flights by Khartoum over Darfur. These indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets not only violate international law, but Khartoum’s own obligations under the specific terms of UN demands. Similarly, the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly demonstrated that Khartoum has violated the arms embargo on Darfur imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). And, in yet further unrebuked defiance of the UN Security Council, Khartoum refuses to accept its responsibilities to the International Criminal Court, to which atrocity crimes in Darfur were referred by Resolution 1593 (March 2005). To date there have been no consequences for the regime for such defiance, and the only regime official to be formally indicted, former State Minister of the Interior Ahmed Haroun, has enjoyed a series of high-profile appointments.
Indeed, we are now approaching the fourth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (July 2004), which “demanded” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice. And yet recent attacks on the towns north of Darfur were carried out with the coordinated help of hundreds Janjaweed militiamen. Khartoum could hardly have established a more impressive record of refusing to abide by UN resolutions, or agreements with international and Sudanese parties, even as its actions are the primary reason the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, reported to the Security Council (February 8, 2008),
“‘Over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently through events related to Chad.'” (UN News Center, February 9, 2008)
[See below for overview of Chad crisis and its consequences for Darfur]
Nothing encourages Khartoum more than the “climate of impunity” so often remarked by UN officials, humanitarian workers, and human rights investigations—even as there exists no political will to impose “punishment” on the National Islamic Front regime despite the conspicuous, indeed overwhelming evidence of its bad faith and obstructionism. Here again China has led the way in refusing to countenance any sanctions measures against Khartoum, no matter how brazen the regime’s defiance and obstructionism, no matter how egregious its violation of international law.
As a direct consequence, there will be more such brutal assaults on civilians as we have seen in recent days north of el-Geneina. And in their wake, we will have more accounts of a sort that are all too familiar from the past five years. Abu Suruj resident Malik Mohamed, speaking to Reuters ([dateline: Khartoum] February 8, 2008),
“said he had escaped during the attack early on Friday [February 8, 2008]. ‘First of all I saw two helicopters and Janjaweed on horses and camels, after that I saw cars,’ he said. ‘The helicopters hit us four times and around 20 bombs were dropped,’ he said by telephone. His voice breaking, he said he had no idea where his family was. ‘I am outside the city and can see burning. They (the attackers) are still inside.'”
Reuters also reports ([dateline: Khartoum], February 9, 2008):
“Sheikh el-Din Mohamed, who escaped from Suleia, told Reuters by telephone from Darfur that he saw a bomb flatten a hut with a woman and her three children in it. He said he also saw attackers kill a driver from the Sudanese Red Crescent as well as four other civilians.”
Associated Press reports today ([dateline: Geneva], February 12, 2008):
“An international Red Cross employee from Sudan was killed during fighting last week in Darfur, the humanitarian agency said Tuesday. The 45-year-old water and sanitation technician was in the West Darfur compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross near the town of Sileia on Friday when he was killed, said Anna Schaaf, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman. No more details were available immediately. ‘The ICRC is shocked by the news of this death,’ the Geneva-based body said in a statement.”
In fact, the terrible truth is that there is no longer anything shocking about the killing of humanitarian workers in Darfur. The deliberate killing, threatening, and assaulting of aid workers is part of a larger policy by Khartoum to limit humanitarian reach and eventually confine operations to urban areas. And even in the major towns, humanitarian personnel are targeted by Khartoum’s ruthlessly efficient security forces. Just over a year ago we had a shocking example of how contemptuous Khartoum is of international humanitarian aid efforts in Darfur. Breaking into an impromptu evening party of workers in Nyala (South Darfur), Khartoum’s security personnel engaged in the most vicious thuggery:
“Aid workers have described how they watched helplessly as Sudanese police officers dragged a female United Nations worker from an aid agency compound in Darfur and subjected her to a vicious sexual attack. Staff say they feared for their lives when armed police raided their compound in Nyala, dragging one European woman out into the street by her hair and savagely beating several other international staff before arresting a total of 20 UN, aid agency, and African Union staff.” [ ]
“A UN official in Darfur said: ‘If the people responsible for beating and molesting the aid workers and UN staff are not punished, others will think they can get away with such crimes and it will happen again. Should the security situation for international aid workers not improve and the overall safety of our staff be assured, we will be forced to withdraw from Darfur.'”
“The latest incident came when police and national security staff stormed an impromptu party at the aid agency compound in Nyala. The UN said police beat staff with batons, with UN and aid agency personnel sustaining serious injuries. Workers at the party said the attacks were part of a campaign of harassment. ‘It seemed as if they had been waiting for an excuse to get stuck into some foreign aid workers, and this was their chance,’ said one.”
“‘Some of the UN guys were seriously injured. I saw a police officer repeatedly hitting one person in the face and then kicking him on the back of the head as he lay on the ground.’ Another said: ‘It has become clear to many of us here that the police and national security have been stirring up trouble in the local community by spreading rumours about aid workers and agencies. They are trying to make our work here as difficult as they can and by getting locals to resent us they can make aid operations almost impossible to run.'” (The Telegraph [UK] [dateline: Darfur], January 28, 2007)
Nothing has changed in Khartoum’s attitudes toward the extraordinarily courageous and dedicated women and men who continue to work on the ground in Darfur.
Nor has anything changed in the genocidal nature of the human destruction that emerges clearly in yet another account of the attacks north of el-Geneina from Reuters ([dateline: Khartoum), February 9, 2008):
“The head of the [non-Arab] Erenga tribe which dominates Abu Surouj and Sirba, Ishaq Nasir, said they had confirmed 27 dead, but expected the actual death toll to exceed rebel reports of 200. An exact number was hard to confirm because attacks continued, he said. ‘These dead—most of them are tribal leaders or teachers or people working for the state. Are these people rebels?’ asked Yehia Mohamed Ulama, a tribal leader from Abu Surouj. He added that JEM had no troops in the area.”
“Ulama and other tribal elders had left their hometowns, now burnt to the ground, to come to Khartoum and complain about militia attacks last month. The visit saved their lives. ‘If someone kills the leadership of the tribe they mean to wipe it out completely,’ said Bashir Ibrahim Yehia, a member of parliament for the area. He said 90-year-old Erenga tribal leader Daoud Idriss was killed in his house with his entire family on Friday [February 8, 2008] along with school teachers who were visiting them.”
“If someone kills the leadership of the tribe they mean to wipe it out completely”: we have too many examples of precisely this form of ethnically targeted human destruction, focusing on men within a tribe who function as leaders, teachers, or potential fighters.
UNAMID STILL OFFERS NO PROSPECT OF IMPROVED SECURITY
More than six months after being authorized by the UN Security Council (Resolution 1769, July 31, 2007), the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has failed to halt the rapid deterioration in security conditions throughout Darfur. Again, as UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson recently told the Security Council (February 8, 2008):
“‘Over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently through events related to Chad.'” (UN News Center, February 9, 2008)
Nor is there any sign of an acceleration of deployment of those personnel and resources that could make UNAMID into an effective force. The transport and tactical helicopters critical to the mission have still not been secured, although there is hope that Ethiopia may have a few that it will deploy (Bangladeshi helicopters offered to the UN had neither appropriate range nor night-flying capability). This unconscionable refusal by militarily capable nations to provide the necessary helicopters only encourages Khartoum to believe that it can forestall UNAMID deployment indefinitely. And already the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping operations has said that it does not expect full deployment of UNAMID before late in 2008 (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], February 5, 2008).
Such dilatory deployment is doubly threatening. Not only does it suggest that civilians and humanitarians will not be receiving adequate protection for many months, but the people in Darfur are already growing restless with the many delays. Briefing the Security Council this past Friday (February 8, 2008), the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guhenno, “warned that if Darfurians ‘see that we cannot meet their expectations—and their expectations are very high—then I think they will be in a very difficult situation'” (New York Times [dateline: UN/New York], February 9, 2008).
General Martin Agwai, the UNAMID force commander, has put the matter even more forcefully:
“Agwai [ ] said one of the biggest challenges will be to manage the refugees’ [i.e., internally displaced persons’] high expectations with the force’s meager capacity. But time is limited, he said. He estimates the refugees will probably tolerate current levels of violence and insecurity for a little while as the UN builds up its presence. But he fears a ‘volcanic eruption’ against the mission if any atrocities take place and Darfur civilians feel the UN has failed to protect them.” (Associated Press [dateline: Abou Shouk camp, North Darfur], January 28, 2008)
As the attacks in West Darfur reveal all too clearly, new and large-scale atrocity crimes have already been committed by Khartoum—with much evidence to suggest that there will be more. Certainly Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency campaign, even in a lower gear of violent attacks, will still do much to provoke the “volcanic eruption” that General Agwai rightly fears. Moreover, key enabling personnel of UNAMID (what used to be referred to as the “heavy support package” for the African Union mission in Darfur) have still not been approved by Khartoum. Nor is there any indication that Khartoum intends to yield on the key matter of non-African personnel, even as these are critical to the mission concept:
“Guhenno said the international peacekeeping force for Darfur urgently needed a decision by the government in Khartoum to permit the participation of critical military units from Thailand and Nepal. Only a third of the anticipated 26,000 members of the force—a joint effort by the United Nations and the African Union—are in Darfur, and the government has been objecting to the participation of non-African troops. Guhenno said that the force was ‘predominately African,’ as the Security Council resolution authorizing it had specified, but that it could not be ‘exclusively African,’ as Sudan seemed to be insisting, and still be able to fulfill its mission.” (New York Times [dateline: UN/New York], February 9, 2008)
Guhenno insisted further that,
“‘To have a force that is exclusively African in character is another matter,’ Guhenno told [Security Council] delegates. And ‘there are a number of important reasons why a broader mix of troop contributors is necessary.’ ‘It is important that UNAMID’s force composition should draw upon a broad range of countries, since due consideration must be given to the geographical balance of the (military) force in order to have an operation that is perceived as impartial by the (warring) parties’ in Darfur, he added.” (Inter Press Service [dateline UN/New York], February 8, 2008)
Put bluntly, Darfuris do not trust the troops of Arab African countries, especially those such as Egypt that have done so much to bolster the Khartoum regime, even as the trust of Darfuris is critical to any successful outcome for UNAMID. A “Status of Forces Agreement” may have been signed on February 9, 2008; but without the requisite “forces,” the agreement is another paper triumph for Khartoum, one in a long string.
What is also troubling about current international failure to overcome the regime’s conspicuous obstructionism is that unless security improves, the chances for peace negotiations—and thus durable security—will continue to dwindle, as deeper and deeper mistrust takes hold among the rebel groups. Inter Press Service reports from Khartoum (January 24, 2008) that Sam Ibok, chief AU negotiator for Darfur,
“attaches great importance to the UNAMID force and says that, unless its weaknesses are addressed, it will not be possible to start the next round of peace talks. ‘UNAMID is necessary for bringing security and protection to the people of Darfur so that they can have the confidence to search for a political solution to the conflict.'”
But UNAMID is simply not gaining traction, and if security and protection are prerequisites for successful peace talks, then Khartoum’s broader strategy becomes clearer. Content to let insecurity and the attenuation of humanitarian assistance take an increasingly debilitating toll on life in the camps and rural areas, and aware that Darfuris will become increasingly angry at the failure of UNAMID to offer the protection for which they’ve waited five years, Khartoum will pretend to be willing to negotiate in good faith, knowing full well that increasing insecurity and deteriorating humanitarian conditions makes it impossible for rebel groups—and that of Abdel Wahid el-Nur and his followers—to come to the negotiating table.
For example, whether or not it is directly responsible for the sharp increase in attacks on UN World Food Program convoys, Khartoum knows full well the devastating impact of these assaults and yet refuses to assist meaningfully with security:
“A surge of truck hijackings threatens to cut off food rations for more than 2 million people in Darfur, the World Food Program said Wednesday, after 22 of its vehicles were attacked and stolen this month [January 2008] alone. With 18 drivers still missing, the UN agency said its main contracting companies refuse to send more food convoys into Darfur. ‘If the situation continues, we’ll be forced to cut rations in parts of Darfur by mid-February,’ Kenro Oshidari, the head of WFP operations in Sudan, said in a statement.”
“The increase in violence comes barely three weeks after the United Nations took over peacekeeping in the remote region of western Sudan where 2.5 million people have been chased into refugee camps by five years of war. Five separate attacks targeted aid workers throughout Darfur just on Tuesday [January 22, 2008], officials said. Among those were ambushes of two WFP convoys in West Darfur and the detention of five WFP staff when their cars were stolen near the North Darfur state capital of El Fasher.” [ ]
“The food convoys to Darfur form the world’s longest humanitarian route, with nearly 1,864 miles to cross between the nearest port on the Red Sea to the desert town of El Geneina, near the border with Chad. Nearly twice as many WFP trucks have been hijacked this month than in the previous four months combined, and the UN said seven humanitarian vehicles have also been stolen so far. Some 369 tons of food were looted in the latest attacks, and the lack of trucks means deliveries will be cut by half. ‘Without these deliveries, WFP faces a rapid depletion of stocks’ and could face a shortage by the time seasonal rains block most roads in May, Oshidari said.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], January 23, 2008)
A World Food Program press release (Khartoum, January 23, 2008) adds significant details to this critical development:
“In December, WFP fed 2.1 million conflict-affected people in Darfur, most of them internally displaced people in camps. A total of 106,000 vulnerable people could not be reached with food assistance in December because of insecurity. Some 40,000 metric tons of food is needed to feed Darfur’s most vulnerable people each month.”
“The transport companies currently refusing to send their trucks back into Darfur normally deliver between 15,000 and 20,000 tons per month. ‘Without these deliveries, WFP faces a rapid depletion of stocks and the inability to pre-position food ahead of the rainy season, which is due to start in May,’ Oshidari said. WFP is working out what form ration cuts might take, where, and how many people would be affected if the banditry continues.”
Who will be fed, who will not? The international community’s moral cowardice before Khartoum’s defiance and its callous attitudes toward such unspeakable suffering and deprivation have forced this terrible question upon some of the finest and most courageous humanitarian workers in the world. It is a disgrace beyond mitigation.
THE CHAD/DARFUR CONNECTIONS
Over the past three years Idriss Dby, the cruel and corrupt President of Chad, has played a central role in the Darfur crisis, though the crises in eastern Chad and western Sudan have never been separable. Unable to resist the political pressures from his fellow Zaghawa tribesmen to support Zaghawa elements in the Darfur rebel groups (especially the JEM), Dby inevitably found himself fighting a proxy war. For Khartoum saw Dby’s decision as forcing a comparable arming and supporting of Chadian rebel groups. But while the Darfur rebellion is largely about very real grievances of longstanding, and the rebel groups—at least initially—represented many of the aspirations of Darfur’s people, the Chadian rebels are not so much aggrieved as greedy for a share of the national wealth and power which Dby has ruthlessly controlled for almost 18 years.
Like his counterparts in Khartoum, Dby is a survivalist, and will sacrifice his people in whatever fashion is necessary to keep himself in power. Indeed, human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that Dby has used the current military crisis to round up civilian opposition leaders with no link to the rebellion. The risk of torture and murder is considerable. But precisely because civil society is so weak in Chad, any regime change is likely to bring to power men no less corrupt than Dby himself, many with strong ties to the Dby regime or the previous and no less corrupt regime of Hissne Habr.
This is of course no concern to Khartoum. Indeed, a strong dispatch by Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times gets at a key feature of the “Chadian” rebellion:
“Experts say [the government of] Sudan played a key role in organizing Chad’s disparate groups of bickering rebels into the current coalition, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, that is fighting in N’Djamena. Sudanese officials pledged their support for an assault, but only if the rebels united.”
“David Buchbinder, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said a rebel takeover would amount to a foreign policy victory for Sudan, which has sheltered the Chadian rebels and given them weapons. ‘For Sudan, this represents a military solution to the Darfur conflict,’ he said. ‘It’s not a done deal, but if Dby is overthrown, it means that the Darfur rebels have enemies on both sides. They are surrounded.’ A Sudanese-backed coup would provide Sudan’s government with a base from which to attack rebels in Darfur and raise the possibility of attacks on refugee camps in eastern Chad, analysts said.” ([dateline: Nairobi], February 4, 2008)
Buchbinder’s views on the larger military implications of a successful Chadian coup are shared by Suliman Baldo of the International Center for Transitional Justice:
“The real winner if Mr. Dby falls would be President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s Islamist government in Sudan, who might feel encouraged to try to smash the Darfur rebels and even challenge Mr. Dby’s allies in CAR. ‘Khartoum would be very emboldened,’ said Suliman Baldo, of the International Center for Transitional Justice. ‘They would escalate their military campaign to try and settle the Darfur issue on the battlefield.'” (The Financial Times [London], February 4, 2008)
The serious threat of a Khartoum-orchestrated coup by Chadian rebels in N’Djamena is the source of acute risks to humanitarian operations in Eastern Chad, even as many tens of thousands of Darfuris have crossed or are headed into this volatile region—most fleeing the recent fighting north of el-Geneina. There are already approximately 500,000 Darfuri refugees, Chadian internally displaced persons, and refugees from Central African Republic in Eastern Chad. They, as well as hundreds of thousands of others who have been affected by conflict—much of it instigated by Khartoum over the past two years—are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. But since the beginning of February and the Chadian rebel assault on N’Djamena, there have been a series of alarming reports from humanitarian organizations, including evacuation notices and warnings of imminent threats to the populations of refugees and displaced persons.
Most recently the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports ([dateline: N’Djamena], February 10, 2008):
“Security was ‘spiralling downwards’ for agencies attempting to assist refugees from Sudan who were fleeing into eastern Chad. ‘We are already operating in an environment where security is spiralling downwards, where the supply from N’djamena is cut after recent fighting, and where our field offices are running short of fuel,’ UNHCR spokeswoman Catherine Huck said.”
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks provided an overview as of February 4, 2008 ([dateline: Goz Beida, Eastern Chad], February 4, 2008):
“Non-essential UN staff and international workers from some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been evacuated from Abch where the managerial staff of the more than 50 aid agencies working with refugees and displaced people in eastern Chad sit, but operational staff are still working at most field offices and refugee camps.”
“Humanitarian workers in Chad told IRIN that except in the areas of the refugee camps at Farchana, Guereda and Iriba in the northeast, which are considered to be at high risk of clashes between rebels and the army as they are close to the rebel border crossing, looting is considered the biggest risk in other towns if aid staff are evacuated.”
“The World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a statement on 4 February  that insecurity in Chad threatens its food distributions to refugee camps in the east, and also the pre-positioning of food which is essential for Darfur refugees to survive through the three month rainy season which starts in June and floods much of the eastern region.”
“The NGOs Oxfam and Save the Children have also released statements warning their operations for refugees and displaced people are at risk because of the insecurity in N’djamena and the region.”
The UN High Commission for Refugees reported on February 6, 2008 that more than 150 UN international staff and staff of partnering nongovernmental humanitarian organizations had been evacuated from Abch in the east and N’Djamena—a huge draw-down of professional capacity.
Action Against Hunger (UK) reports in a press release of February 7, 2008:
“With transport on a standstill, no supplies such as fuel and food are reaching Abch [the major humanitarian aid hub in Eastern Chad] any more. Although people living in these camps [in the border regions] are not at imminent risk, aid flows have seriously been hampered for the forthcoming weeks. Should humanitarian relief efforts continue to be hampered, the humanitarian situation in camps could rapidly deteriorate.”
The UN’s World Food Program is further worried about its abilities to pre-position food in Eastern Chad before the start of the rainy season in June, given the severing of the humanitarian corridor running from Cameroon into N’djamena by rebel fighting:
“World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume tells Voice of America it is critical that the humanitarian corridor between Cameroon and Chad] be re-opened as quickly as possible. ‘Because we need absolutely to pre-position food before the rainy season starts and it starts in June and it lasts for five months,’ she said. ‘And, the rainy season in the eastern part of Chad is so bad that it cuts this area from the rest of the country. There is no way we can bring food by road. The road is totally flooded.'” (Voice of America [dateline: Geneva], February 9, 2008)
THE DEBY REGIME
While it is of central importance that the opportunistic Chadian rebels have been supported materially and logistically by Khartoum for military purposes, the Chadian government is in some ways just as opportunistic. This is reflected in the brutal ultimatum issued by Chadian Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye. Speaking as thousands of Darfuri civilians were fleeing towns and villages that had been destroyed by Khartoum and the Janjaweed, Koumakoye,
“demanded Monday [February 9, 2008] that the international community remove refugees who have fled to Chad from Sudan’s Darfur region, warning that Chadian authorities would otherwise do it themselves. Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye charged that Sudan’s government has fomented violence in Chad—including backing a failed coup attempt last week—because of the refugees’ presence. [ ]
In a profoundly disingenuous and supremely callous account of tensions between N’Djamena and Khartoum, Koumakoye declared:
“‘We are being attacked by Sudan because of these refugees,’ Koumakoye told reporters in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. ‘We demand that the international community transfer the population (of Sudanese refugees) from Chad to Sudan to free us,’ he said. ‘We want the international community to look for another country so that the Sudanese can leave. If they cannot do it, we are going to do it.'” (Associated Press [dateline: N’Djamena], February 11, 2008)
It is doubtful, though not impossible, that Chad would begin forced repatriation of Darfuri refugees: the Dby regime is far too precarious to risk outrage within the international community, particular among the European nations that will be deploying the critically necessary EUFOR mission to Eastern Chad. Dby now sees this force as a military bulwark that will make it much more difficult for Chadian rebels to regroup, re-arm and re-supply, and attack again from Darfur.
For just this reason, as many have observed, EUFOR’s major challenge will be to preserve its neutrality in deploying to Eastern Chad, particularly since the bulk of the forces will be French. The Chadian rebel groups believe, with considerable justification, that France has sided with the Dby regime in yet another instance of what is know on the continent as “Francafrique”—the preservation of preferred dictatorial rule in former French colonies. Certainly French failure to put pressure on Dby to address the deeper political issues in his country amounts to a tacit endorsement of the status quo. As David Mozersky of the International Crisis Group has declared:
“‘There is still no one talking about the governance issue in Chadit’s astonishing that people are not asking lots of questions about the deeper issues.'” (Reuters [dateline: Dakar], February 8, 2008)
Alex de Waal of Justice Africa also declared “he was astonished that France was not openly using its diplomatic and military leverage over Dby to push him to open a political dialogue with his foes.” (Reuters [dateline: Dakar], February 8, 2008)
THE NECESSITY OF EUFOR
But for all the criticism that may be made of France, it is French President Sarkozy who has been the galvanizing force for EUFOR, which must deploy urgently, despite the high risks. For the risks of leaving civilians and humanitarians unprotected in Eastern Darfur are finally much greater and more threatening. Moreover, the presence of EUFOR, even if dramatically undermanned for the mission it is undertaking, will likely also work to forestall further cross-border violence on the part of Khartoum and its Janjaweed proxies, including aerial assaults on civilian targets in Chad. It must not be forgotten how severe and destructive this violence was, beginning in 2005, and how much it did to animate the ethnic violence that has subsequently pervaded life in Eastern Chad. Human Rights Watch provided excellent accounts of this violence in early 2006, making clear the urgent need for humanitarian intervention:
“The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbor by providing material support to Janjaweed militias [ ], by backing Chadian rebel groups that it allows to operate from bases in Darfur, and by deploying its own armed forces across the border into Chad. [ ] Attacks on Chadian civilians accelerated dramatically in the wake of a December 2005 assault on Adr, in eastern Chad, by Chadian rebels with bases in Darfur and supported by the government of Sudan.” [ ]
“On some occasions, the Janjaweed attacks [on civilians in Chad] appear to be coordinated with those of the Chadian rebels. On other occasions, Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support.” (Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” February 2006, page 2).
Concerning the use of helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft, Human Rights Watch found,
“evidence of apparent Sudanese government involvement in attacks against civilian populations in eastern Chad since early December 2005. Witness accounts and physical evidence indicated that government of Sudan troops and helicopter gunships participated directly in attacks, while many people reported seeing Antonov aircraft approach from Sudan, circle overhead, then return to Sudan in advance of Janjaweed raids; they believe spotters in these aircraft report concentrations of cattle to forces on the ground.” (page 11)
In its November 15, 2006 report on the situation in Eastern Chad (“Chad/Sudan: End Militia Attacks on Civilians: UN-AU Summit Must Strengthen International Force in Darfur and Chad,” November 15, 2006 at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/11/15/darfur14609.htm), Human Rights Watch reported it had,
“also collected dozens of accounts from survivors of a wave of militia attacks in Chad over the past few weeks. Victims of the militia attacks in southeastern Chad consistently state that groups of Chadian Arab nomads have been newly armed and are responsible for many of the attacks, which have killed and injured hundreds of civilians.”
These new arms certainly came from Khartoum’s military command and constituted further evidence of the regime’s determination to de-stabilize the Eastern Chad region, both to counter Darfuri rebel presence, and to extend genocidal counter-insurgency warfare, including by way of “paying” Darfuri Janjaweed in the form of booty from raids against civilians in Chad:
“‘We’re seeing a regional war against civilians, with armed groups on both sides of the border actively supported or tolerated by the Sudanese and Chadian governments,’ said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘The high-level meetings in [Addis Ababa,] Ethiopia must produce a clear plan for immediate deployment of international troops to protect civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad. The force should also monitor and enforce the arms embargo in Darfur.'”
A sense of the scale of the destruction was also offered in the Human Rights Watch report of November 2006:
“Chadian militia groups have attacked dozens of villages in southeastern Chad over the last 10 days, killing several hundred civilians, injuring scores of people and driving at least 10,000 people from their homes. In a wave of violence that is sweeping through rural areas, villagers are defending themselves with spears and poisoned arrows against militia groups of Arab nomads armed with automatic weapons. A clear pattern has emerged in which Chadian Arab militia groups are targeting non-Arab villages in southeastern Chad.”
“Militia groups attacked as many as 60 Chadian villages separated by several hundred kilometers of rugged terrain on November 4-5  and in the week that followed. The militias then loot the villages that have been cleared of civilians. In some instances, villages are attacked or destroyed but not looted, suggesting the motive is not robbery, and the level of brutality is rising. Human Rights Watch documented several attacks where militia members mutilated men in their custody and deliberately burned women to death.”
“‘Political and military incursions from Darfur are inflaming underlying ethnic tensions in Chad,’ Takirambudde said. ‘The widespread attacks in Chad suggest that these are not merely instances of localized, spontaneous conflict, but may be part of a coordinated campaign by Chadian militias to remove civilians from key areas.'”
It was clear at the time that ethnic violence that had defined conflict in Darfur had the potential to be exported even further west in Chad. Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times reported in an important dispatch from Djedidah, Chad (October 31, 2006):
“Arab men on horseback rode into her village, shouting racial epithets over the rat-tat-tat of Kalashnikov gunfire. ‘They shouted “zurga,”‘ [Halima Sherif] said, an Arabic word for black [*and also a derogatory racial epithet—ER*]. ‘They told us they would take our land. They shot many people and burned our houses. We all ran away.’ Scenes like this one have been unfolding in the war-ravaged Darfur region of western Sudan for more than three years, and since the beginning of this year Sudanese Arabs have also been attacking Chadian villages just across Sudan’s porous border.”
“But the attacks on Djedidah and nine villages around it in early October  took place not in Darfur, or even on Chad’s violent border with Sudan. It took place relatively deep inside Chad, about 95 kilometers, or 60 miles, from the border—a huge distance in a place with few roads and where most travel is by horse, donkey or on foot.”
“Beyond that, the attack was carried out not by Sudanese raiders from across the border but by Chadian Arabs, according to victims of the attack. ‘They were our neighbors,’ Sherif said, as she hurried to collect a few goats from the charred remains of her family compound. ‘We know them. They are Chadian.'”
“The violence in Darfur has been spilling over into Chad since at least early this year [but] the violence around one of the other interior villages that was attacked, Kou Kou, is different and ominous, aid workers and analysts say. It appears to have been done by Chadian Arabs against non-Arab villages in Chad, and was apparently inspired by similar campaigns of violence by Sudanese Arab militias in Sudan.”
And the most prescient assessment was offered by Human Rights Watch Chad researched David Buchbinder:
“If the racial and ethnic conflict that has infected Darfur is being copied by Chad’s Arabs, then the violence spreading beyond Darfur’s borders could presage even further regional conflict, said David Buchbinder, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who specializes in Chad. ‘The racial ideology is spreading, and that is very dangerous,’ Buchbinder said.”
What we are seeing well over a year later are these terrible fears realized, as Khartoum pursues its genocidal counterinsurgency campaign by all means available. Human Rights Watch’s call for an international force has not been heeded with nearly sufficient urgency, which brings enormous time pressure to bear on the European deployment.
The major difficulties confronting EUFOR are its belatedness (it will not deploy fully for months), its challenge in preserving its neutrality in an exceedingly complex political and military situation, and its painfully small size. French General Jean-Philippe Ganascia, who will have operational control of the mission on the ground, recently noted that,
“his force was tasked with securing an area 26 times the size of Kosovo, scene of a much bigger EU mission, and its 3,700-troop mandate was 1,000 fewer than first planned.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena], February 9, 2008)
In fact, experts at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations estimate that EUFOR is only a quarter of the size necessary to undertake its mission in an area of 350,000 square kilometers.
Even so, EUFOR is being welcomed enthusiastically by desperate humanitarians. The well-seasoned and skilful Serge Male, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in N’Djamena, declared just before the recent Chadian rebel assault on the capital:
“‘Finally. The UN High Commission for Refugees has asked for an international military presence for a year and a half.’ He added that the force should ‘bring a little stability and security, and open some doors to allow for the displaced to return to their villages.'” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: N’Djamena], January 30, 2008)
But there should be no premature celebration, even if EUFOR begins to deploy in earnest with the retreat of the Chadian rebels back into their sanctuary in Darfur. EUFOR is in many ways fulfilling the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 2006), which specified that the UN force, authorized under Chapter 7 auspices of the UN Charter, was to have established “a multidimensional presence consisting of political, humanitarian, military and civilian police liaison officers in key locations in Chad, including in internally displaced persons and refugee camps” (R. 1706, Paragraph 9 [d]).
Of course Khartoum flatly refused to accept this authorized peace support operation, an action without precedent in the history of UN peacekeeping, and which has created the unwieldy split between the mandates of EUFOR and the UN/African Union “hybrid” force in Darfur (UNAMID). The poorly conceived UNAMID has created yet further and in many ways crippling problems, and remains very much under the control of Khartoum’s policy of obstructionism. EUFOR without the presence of UNAMID will have an immensely more complex and challenging set of tasks in civilian and humanitarian protection. The attacks north of el-Geneina—with tens of thousands of civilians caught between Chad and Darfur, between the military ambitions of N’Djamena and Khartoum—provide a terribly vivid example.
As de Waal has suggested, we are not likely to have seen the last of the Chadian rebels: they make too inviting a proxy for Khartoum. And as Human Rights Watch’s Buchbinder cogently remarks,
“By attacking and destabilizing Chad, which has supported the Darfur rebels, Sudan will undermine its strongest enemies at home—with alarming consequences for the civilian population caught up in the Darfur conflict. ‘It’s the triumph of the military solution to the Darfur conflict,’ said Buchbinder. I think this is a very bad time for the refugees.'” (International War and Peace Reporting [dateline: The Hague], February 7, 2008)
How bad will continue to depend on whether the international community can muster the courage and honesty to confront the Khartoum regime and forestall its ghastly “military solution.” Past evidence is altogether depressing.