“Chaos by Design”: Khartoum’s Patterns of Violence in Darfur, 2008

It has become a wearingly familiar truism of “news” reporting and commentary on Darfur: violence in the region is significantly different from the large-scale, genocidal village destruction of 2003 through early 2005. Of course it could hardly be otherwise: the strong consensus among this writer’s informed contacts in the Darfuri diaspora is that between 80 and 90 percent of all African villages have been destroyed. More than 2.7 million people—overwhelmingly from African (non-Arab) populations—have been displaced into camps within Darfur or refugee sites in Eastern Chad. Agricultural production has been radically compromised by pervasive insecurity, with extremely poor harvests this past year in both South and North Darfur. The looting of cattle and livestock is no longer as powerful an incentive for Janjaweed militia precisely because of the ghastly successes of previous village raids.

The world chiefly watched during this most violent phase of the Darfur genocide, and did nothing of consequence to stop it. Instead, a small number of African Union military observers were sent to Darfur in summer 2004 to monitor a non-existent cease-fire between rebel groups and Khartoum. They occasionally released reports of the their investigations, though more often did not. They were thoroughly ineffectual—and they had no mandate to protect civilians.

The other element of international response to genocide in Darfur has been to deploy a vast humanitarian aid operation—without protection—into an environment that has grown increasingly insecure, particularly over the past two and a half years. There can be little question that this humanitarian operation, which began in earnest in summer 2004, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would otherwise have been lost. But as former UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland repeatedly warned, these humanitarians are working in an environment that is intolerably insecure. It is extraordinary that so many organizations have remained active and not withdrawn, though many have now suspended all or part of their operations—and a growing number have simply left because of insecurity. Virtually all, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have indicated explicitly that there is a point at which they will suspend or terminate humanitarian operations. Meanwhile, access to distressed populations continues to drop, and both UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations privately indicate they can reach fewer than 50 percent of those in need except by expensive, hit-and-run helicopter transport.

Quite simply, violence has remained the defining feature of Darfur’s brutalized landscape, even if it is a great deal more chaotic and less easily characterized. The rebel movements have fractured badly in the wake of the poorly conceived and disastrously consummated Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, Nigeria; May 2006). Fighting between rebel groups, as well as between Arab groups, has too often affected or targeted civilians. Violence along ethnic lines has increased, both in the camps and rural areas. Rebel groups have betrayed humanitarian efforts by failing to provide adequate security, or claiming to provide security that is beyond their military means. Some rebel elements and regime-backed militia forces have also looted humanitarian convoys of equipment and vehicles. And opportunistic banditry—much of it countenanced, even orchestrated, by Khartoum—has had a devastating effect on relief operations and movement on the ground. As one well-informed UN official put the matter: “the vast majority of attacks on humanitarians occur in main towns and state capitals—where the Government of Sudan has absolute control. It is simply not in their interests to improve security” (email received August 6, 2008).

It remains the case, however, that the largest and most destructive source of violence, and consequent insecurity, remains the Khartoum regime’s regular armed forces (the Sudan Armed Forces/SAF), its security forces (particularly Military Intelligence), and its Janjaweed militia allies. The regime continues its relentless bombing of civilian targets, continues to attack rebel groups without any effort to discriminate between civilian and military targets, and is unconstrained by any sense of proportionality of response. Rebel sources, which have in the main been accurate, have recently reported intense bombing in much of North Darfur, including numerous villages. They also report that Khartoum’s ground forces have attacked repeatedly in the areas near Kutum, Disa and Bir Maza, and eastern Jebel Marra, reports confirmed to the extent possible by the UN mission in Darfur. And a major offensive has also been mounted in far northern North Darfur (Concession Block 12A), with clear indications that this is in preparation for oil exploration work by the Chinese near the Darfur/Libyan border. Certainly the Chinese felt no compunctions about working in the oil regions of southern Sudan during one of the most violent phases of the north/south civil war (1997-2003).

[For an excellent and highly informed overview of Chinese and Arab participation in this unconscionable extension of resource extraction from Sudan during a period of intense conflict, see The Sudan Tribune, July 9, 2008 (“Sudan talks to Chinese firms for help in Darfur oil explorations,” at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article27781.]

Most consequentially, Khartoum has recently given strong evidence that it intends to accelerate a primary policy goal of the past four years: forcing displaced persons from the camps, especially those near the major towns of Nyala, el-Fasher, and el-Geneina. The savage attack on civilians in Kalma Camp near Nyala (August 25, 2008) killed scores (a final death toll has yet to be firmly established) and wounded over 100. A more recent attack (September 10, 2008) on ZamZam camp near el-Fasher was undertaken by Khartoum’s security forces in armored vehicles. Again there are reports of significant civilian casualties (see the Sudan Tribune, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28601).

These attacks on camps for Internally Displaced Persons have a grim history that goes back three years now. In September 2005, in what were then unprecedented acts, Khartoum’s SAF and Janjaweed militia allies attacked an IDP camp in Tawilla (North Darfur) and the completely undefended Aro Sharow IDP camp in West Darfur. As many as 5,000 displaced persons were forced to flee from Aro Sharow, dozens were killed in the assault—and there were no consequences other that futile criticism from the African Union in Darfur:

“On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.”

“The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps.” (Transcript of press conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)

In camps and towns, civilians—especially those thought to be too visible in their support for the rebels or the International Criminal Court in its investigation of atrocity crimes in Darfur—are subject to continuing arrest, torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial execution. Darfuris who are heard or seen to be giving revealing accounts of conditions in Darfur are also beaten, raped, arrested, or even killed. The level of fear in the camps, the overwhelming atmosphere of intimidation, can be only partially conveyed. But the lives of these people—many who have been in camps for five years now—are defined by extreme insecurity and the most precarious humanitarian sustenance. Most of these people are not living, they are simply existing.

The Janjaweed remain Khartoum’s most potent military allies, and have been implicated in many of the most violent episodes in 2008: the brutal scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina in February; attacks on the UN/African Union force (UNAMID), most consequentially the deadly July 8 attack in North Darfur; and most recently during the string of ground and aerial attacks by regime forces in North Darfur and Jebel Marra (launched by Khartoum after committing to a month-long Ramadan cease-fire). There is overwhelming evidence of Khartoum’s continued coordination with the Janjaweed, including providing these deadly militia with advanced weaponry. The appointment of Musa Hilal to a senior position in the regime in January 2008 (see my commentary in The New Republic, http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=be8e8833-55ce-4158-9b05-3fa57ec524c0) is only the most conspicuous sign of the regime’s determination to retain the services of these notorious militia forces.

To be sure, the term “Janjaweed” has also evolved and broadened in designation over the course of more than five years of conflict. An excellent overview of the range of meanings is offered by Clea Kahn, “Conflict, Arms, and Militarization: The Dynamics of Darfur’s IDP Camps,” Small Arms Survey, September 2008, pages 13-14, at http://hei.unige.ch/sas/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/sudan_publications.html). But all accounts from the ground in Darfur make clear that the Janjaweed, in their various forms—and frequently recycled into other paramilitary forces controlled by Khartoum—continue to create tremendous insecurity in and around many of Darfur’s camps for displaced persons, and in rural areas. Many of these rural areas, especially those with the most arable land, have been occupied by Arab tribes from which the Janjaweed are drawn; indeed, this is the primary form of payment that Khartoum has offered, and the lack of additional land to seize has created tensions between various Arab tribal groups. These tensions have been exacerbated by the presence of Arab groups from Chad, Niger, even Mali.

The brutality of Khartoum’s violence against civilians, and its immensely disruptive effects, is captured in recent examples cited by Sima Samar, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, in her report of September 2, 2008:

“In another worrying example of a direct attack on civilian targets by Government [of Sudan] forces, an attack on Tawilla by members of the Central Reserve Police (CRP) on 12 May [2008] left the town completely deserted. After a CRP member was found dead inside the Rwanda Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] camp, CRP personnel responded by burning and looting of huts and destroying the market. Approximately 20,000 people from Tawilla town and the IDPs from Rwanda camp were forced to flee the area. As of 22 July 2008, most have not returned to the area. Representatives of the local community complained about killings, violent assaults and rapes that occurred during the attack. No action has been taken for accountability and justice.” (accessed at: General Assembly, A/HRC/9/13, Report covering the period January to July 2008 [September 2, 2008])

[See the discussion below of the crisis in the Nuba Mountains for more on the role of the Central Reserve Police.]

Special Rapporteur Samar’s report also makes clear the threat to civilians from the air:

“In the first three weeks of July 2008 there were 21 separate incidents of aerial bombardment. The air strikes were carried out by the Government of Sudan with Antonov aircrafts and MIG fighter jets. Reportedly, the strikes impacted in the vicinity of civilian communities and allegedly resulted in the deaths of 12 persons, including 5 women and 2 children. The United Nations received further reports that civilian objects, in particular cultivated land and livestock, were also destroyed.”

These attacks, as well as large-scale offensives such as that north of el-Geneina in February of this year, have sustained massive human displacement throughout 2008. The UN’s most recent Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 32, page 4, at http://www.unsudanig.org/library/profile/index.php) estimates that as of July 1, 2008 more than 200,000 people had been newly displaced this year alone—a rate of more than 1,000 human beings per day. The fate of many of these displaced persons is almost certain death. During the current series of offensive military moves in North Darfur, Khartoum has displaced many thousands of civilians. In the aftermath of one attack, near Kutum (North Darfur), Reuters reports ([dateline: Khartoum], September 7, 2008):

“Fighters from two factions of the insurgent Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said fighting had taken place in the same area on Saturday [September 6, 2008], as well as around two settlements about 150km north, close to the town of Kutum. ‘The shooting has started again now,’ said Ibrahimal-Helwu, from the branch of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, claiming the government was using attack helicopters and Antonov aircraft. ‘Hundreds of civilians are fleeing into the desert or the forests. It is going to be bad for them there because there is no shelter.'”

Khartoum of course denies all such attacks, but tellingly refuses to allow access to investigators from the UN/African Union “hybrid” mission (UNAMID):

“On Saturday [September 6, 2008] [a spokesman for UNAMID] said government forces stopped a UNAMID patrol from entering the area south-west of El Fasher where the rebels claimed fighting took place on Saturday and Sunday [September 7, 2008].” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], September 7, 2008)

This denial of access to UNAMID investigators by Khartoum’s security forces was also reported by humanitarian workers at Kalma Camp for displaced persons on the morning of the brutal August 25 attack against civilians. A clear pattern of denied access has been in evidence since the UN took command of the Darfur mission on January 1, 2008—a continuation of Khartoum’s treatment of investigators from the African Union mission in Sudan, which was in fact simply re-hatted with “UN blue” to make up UNAMID.

This is only one factor that should give pause to those blaming or attributing current violence in Darfur to the July 14, 2008 accusation made by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. On the basis of more than two years of detailed investigation (authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1593, March 2005), Ocampo charged National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) President Omar al-Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity. And as Ocampo rightly insists in his appeal to a three-judge ICC panel for an arrest warrant, even after the cataclysm of ethnically-targeted violence in the first years of the Darfur conflict, Khartoum has consistently used violence for genocidal purposes. It is also important to note that beyond the crimes Ocampo charges, attacks on UNAMID have been committed over the course of 2008 (see below), certainly well before ICC actions were mooted as “explanation” of Khartoum’s violence.


The violence and insecurity that have been so relentlessly orchestrated by Khartoum has put millions of vulnerable Darfuris at continual risk. The UN’s Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 32 (conditions as of July 1, 2008) estimates that more than 4.5 million civilians are in need of humanitarian assistance. This is more than two-thirds of Darfur’s pre-war population, now diminished by hundreds of thousands of deaths (see my April/May 2006 mortality assessment at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article102.html). Just as ominously, insecurity also threatens the humanitarian workers and operations upon which this vast population is increasingly dependent. The UN’s World Food Program warned in a recent press release (September 8, 2008) that unless security improved, it would be forced to suspend to food aid to millions of people already badly weakened by more than five years of war:

“The UN World Food Program (WFP) said that relentless attacks on truck convoys in Darfur are pushing to the brink the agency’s ability to feed more than 3 million people each month. While WFP managed to recover three hijacked trucks and four fleet staff yesterday [September 6, 2008] following the latest attack in South Darfur, 69 trucks and 43 drivers remain unaccounted for. Since the beginning of the year, more than 100 vehicles delivering WFP food assistance have been hijacked in Darfur, with many more shot at and robbed. Drivers are refusing to travel along certain routes, significantly slowing food aid deliveries to hungry people.”

“‘Repeated and targeted attacks on food convoys are making it extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for us to feed hungry people,’ said Monika Midel, WFP’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, saying that the agency was deeply concerned that the welfare and lives of personnel were being put at increased risk. ‘Should these attacks continue, the situation will become intolerable—to the point that we will have to suspend operations in some areas of Darfur.'” [ ]

“Since the beginning of the year, WFP has been warning that banditry and attacks have been impeding its operation. The dramatic decline in security has caused a major reduction in food deliveries to Darfur. WFP started cutting rations in May when truck convoys could no longer deliver enough food, affecting three million people. In July, almost 50,000 people received no food assistance at all due to insecurity.” (UN World Food Program press release [Rome], September 7, 2008)

WFP’s implementing partners are also facing intolerable insecurity and in some cases suspending operations. German Agro Action is instanced in the WFP press release:

“WFP’s warning comes in the wake of the decision on 27 August [2008] by NGO partner German Agro Action (GAA) to suspend food distribution to 450,000 people in North Darfur because of insecurity.”

And yet far from responding to this desperate situation by providing escorts for food and humanitarian convoys, Khartoum continues to expend its military resources in new offensives against rebel groups and civilians, particularly in North Darfur and Jebel Marra. Negotiations between the UN and the regime to provide effective protection for humanitarian efforts, and in particular WFP convoys, have proved fruitless.

At the same time, in a policy of supreme callousness, Khartoum is also engaged in the large-scale export of food, mainly through large agribusiness concerns that are controlled by the regime and its cronies (for an excellent discussion of this policy, see The New York Times, “Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food,” August 9, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html?scp=1&sq=gettleman%20darfur&st=cse). In other words, while the world community is struggling to bring adequate food into Sudan via Port Sudan and overland to Darfur, the Khartoum regime and its partners are profiting handsomely from food exports, especially to the Arab world.


In July 2006, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan directed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to conduct a rapid assessment of what would be required for a UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur. That plan served as the basis for UN Security Council Resolution 1706, passed on August 31, 2006. The force contemplated in the resolution comprised 22,500 UN troops and civilian police, with a robust mandate for civilian and humanitarian protection. China abstained on the resolution, though it used its threat of a veto to insist that language be inserted “inviting” the consent of the Khartoum regime for the authorized UN force. Predictably, the regime declined the “invitation,” and the UN Secretariat—primarily in the person of Jan Pronk, special representative to Sudan of the Secretary General—quickly capitulated before this defiance. The resolution was simply dropped from further consideration and no plans were made for implementation, actions without precedent in the history of UN peacekeeping. What followed was vague and desultory talk from Pronk and others of an “African Union-Plus,” a beefing up of the under-manned, under-equipped, badly led, and deeply demoralized AU force that had begun to deploy fitfully in late 2004 to augment the observer force that had arrived earlier in the summer.

Following “high-level consultations” in Addis Ababa in November 2006, a skimpy and too often critically vague document emerged to form the basis of prolonged, obscenely deferential negotiations with Khartoum about the possibility of a UN role in a peacekeeping force for Darfur. The belated fruit of these negotiations was embodied in UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007), authorizing 26,000 troops and civilian police in a “hybrid” UN and African Union force that would be known as “UNAMID.” From the beginning it was clear that concessions made by the UN would prove disastrous for the “hybrid” mission: an unprecedented and hopelessly confused command-and-control structure; language that permitted Khartoum to insist that it had veto power over which non-African nations could deploy as part of the mission; and a reliance on African resources that simply did not exist. Moreover, China again used its threat of a veto to insist on changes to the resolution, in this case deleting any mention of punitive measures in the all-too-predictable event of non-compliance by Khartoum. And indeed Khartoum has refused to abide by key terms of the resolution, and has repeatedly reneged on its own negotiated commitments.

The well-reported upshot has been that UNAMID is a disaster, little more than a continuation of the previous African Union mission in Darfur. Fewer than 10,000 personnel of the 26,000 authorized have deployed, and only one of the 19 critical Formed Police Units essential for stabilizing security within the camps has deployed. Engineering efforts to prepare for additional military battalions have been badly delayed, in no small measure because of Khartoum’s early refusal to permit deployment of a highly trained Swedish/Norwegian engineering battalion. Well-equipped and -trained battalions from Thailand and Nepal have also been refused.

But it is also true that the international community has allowed UNAMID to fail for lack of resources and a refusal to provide clear political commitment to see the terms of Resolution 1769 respected. For over two years—since July 2006—every militarily capable nation in the world has known the basic demands of any peace support operation for Darfur. It is, then, a moral scandal of the first order that these militarily capable nations have yet to contribute any of the required helicopters desperately needed by the mission (24 for active use, entailing the presence of some 70 airframes, given the intense maintenance required for these aircraft operating in the difficult climate of Darfur). This is so despite the fact that it has been obvious for more than two years that helicopters would be a critical element in any successful peace support operation in Darfur. UNAMID could do much more with these critical transport aircraft, including investigating the current intense fighting in North Darfur and Jebel Marra.

In fact, helicopters are available: a recent report by aviation specialist Thomas Withington (“Grounded: the International Community’s Betrayal of UNAMID,” July 31, 2008, at http://allafrica.com/peaceafrica/resources/00011598.html) identifies a number of particular countries that might contribute. The report, endorsed by 36 human rights organizations and other nongovernmental organizations from around the world:

“[S]ets out for the first time which states have the necessary helicopters and estimates how many are available for deployment to Darfur. It identifies a number of countries—including the Czech Republic, India, Italy, Romania, Spain and Ukraine—that have large numbers of helicopters that meet the required specifications and are not on mission or mission rotation elsewhere. Many of these helicopters are gathering dust in hangars or flying in air shows when they could be saving lives in Darfur.” (Forward to “Grounded: the International Community’s Betrayal of UNAMID”)

Most tellingly, in the Executive Summary, the report finds:

“Using conservative estimates, the report calculates that NATO alone could provide as many as 104 suitable helicopters for the UNAMID force. Among NATO countries, those countries best placed to provide helicopters to UNAMID are the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Spain. In addition, Ukraine and India—both countries that traditionally contribute to UN peacekeeping missions—could together contribute 34 helicopters. Between them, these six countries could provide an estimated fleet of over 70 helicopters—four times the number required by UNAMID. Countries with the ability to provide these helicopters must do so immediately, and Security Council members—especially the five permanent members—must engage in concerted diplomacy to make sure this happens.”

But as culpable as the international community as a whole has been in its failure to provide the necessary resources, equipment, and logistics for UNAMID, it is the Khartoum regime that has done most to eviscerate the force and cripple its deployment. It took many months to secure from Khartoum a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), detailing precisely what actions, prerogatives, and responsibilities the two parties—the regime and UNAMID—actually had. And even this “agreement” was partial: for example, Khartoum formally agreed to grant night-flying rights to UNAMID only in mid-August 2008—more than a year after Security Council passage of Resolution 1769. Khartoum has also kept key UNAMID supply containers in Port Sudan without cause or explanation. And as noted above, Khartoum has regularly obstructed the movement of UNAMID personnel performing their mission, in clear violation of the SOFA. Indeed, a May 2008 attack on a UNAMID officer reveals complete contempt by Khartoum, whose security forces in el-Fasher (capital of North Darfur) assaulted a UNAMID investigator in the course of his duties:

“The [UNAMID] security officer went to the market area in El Fasher yesterday [May 21, 2008] to investigate a road accident involving a UN staff member, a military vehicle, and a taxi, according to UNAMID. He had just started taking pictures of the scene when a small group of military personnel assaulted him, despite the intervention of UNAMID civilian staff.” (UNAMID public statement [Khartoum], May 22, 2008)

The African Union has shown no willingness, military or political, to confront Khartoum, and has thereby lost the confidence and support of the Darfuri civilians they are tasked with protecting. For its part, Khartoum—facing no threat of sanctions or punishment—is evermore emboldened in its actions. As a consequence, in little more than eight months UNAMID has descended from the status of welcome successor to the previous AU force to an object of scorn and anger. Much of this derives ultimately from the attitudes in Addis Ababa, AU headquarters, where deference to, even support for Khartoum is conspicuous.

African countries that are also members of the Arab League are particularly culpable, especially Egypt. None of this is lost on Darfuris, on the ground or in the diaspora. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s September 12 celebration of an Arab League-led “peace process” for Darfur, with Qatar nominally taking the lead, reflects a desperate foolishness, a desire to be seen doing something rather than nothing on his self-declared “signature” issue (http://allafrica.com/stories/200809130001.html). In fact, turning to the Arab League for leadership in the Darfur peace process will surely make any meaningful efforts all the more difficult: Khartoum will welcome the initiative because it is confident of support for its diplomatic posture; Darfuris of all parties and affiliation will reject Arab efforts for the same reason.


There are no surprises, nothing that is unexpected in the outlines of the force that has become UNAMID. UNAMID did not have to fail, though international capitulation before Khartoum’s defiance of Security Council Resolution 1706 has been the critical context for a now deepening failure. This context also includes key developments of the past two years: this is the period in which the fracturing of the rebel movements was most destructive of the chances for a negotiated peace agreement, the only long-term solution to the Darfur crisis. This is also the period in which humanitarian access began its remorseless decline.

Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 24 (conditions as of July 1, 2006) reported that humanitarian access stood at 82 percent—with 500,000 fewer civilians internally displaced. But in the wake of the Darfur Peace Agreement, access to needy civilians in Darfur has been dramatically attenuated, many hundreds of thousands of civilians have been newly displaced, and the very meaning of humanitarian assistance has had to be re-defined. Instead, of providing primary care, monitoring clinics and food distribution, overseeing water purification and hygiene, aid workers far too often have to settle for simply delivering supplies, able to stay in many locations for only hours instead of days. The quality of humanitarian aid has as a consequence plummeted. The meaning of humanitarian “access” has also been radically re-defined: for populations outside the main towns, access means [a] people in need who can be reached only by expensive, hit-and-run helicopter transport (perhaps 70 percent of the population in need), and [b] people in need who can be reached by heavily protected convoys delivering supplies (perhaps 40 percent of the population). A June 2, 2008 access map from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/JOPA-7FQGVY?OpenDocument) shows clearly how extremely tenuous the reach of humanitarian organizations has become.

Humanitarian indicators were also improving in summer 2006, whereas the current Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 32, conditions as of July 1, 2008) concludes its narrative:

“In June [2008], the Sudan humanitarian Country team visited South Darfur [home to approximately half Darfur’s total population], and warned that limited time remained to safeguard the Darfur populations against an increasingly unsustainable situation. Although malnutrition rates are currently in line with last year’s figures, the prognosis for the humanitarian situation in the coming months is extremely worrisome.” (page 15)

As of July 1, 2008 it was clear that malnutrition was poised to rise precipitously. August and September are the two heaviest months of rainfall in Darfur, creating a logistical nightmare for humanitarians. Not nearly enough food had been pre-positioned in remoter or more inaccessible areas; and not nearly enough food is making its way into Darfur because of insecurity (see UN World Food Program announcement above). Food rations have been severely cut for beneficiaries throughout Darfur since May—four months ago. The prospects for harvests this fall are extremely grim, and this follows the disastrous harvests of last fall in South and North Darfur.

Water supplies and sanitary facilities are also being compromised, not only by the seasonal rains, but by deliberate policies on Khartoum’s part. UN officials report that Khartoum-orchestrated violence continues to target waters sources in rural areas, and that regime officials limit fuel supplies to camps, fuel that runs water pumps at key access points, providing the water upon which many hundreds of thousands of people are completely dependent.

There can be little doubt that Khartoum is engaged in a strategic and comprehensive assault on the camps, as well as the humanitarian efforts that sustain them. Thus humanitarian agencies that provide overall management in particular camps have frequently been the target of Khartoum’s efforts, as Clea Kahn finds in “Conflict, Arms, and Militarization: The Dynamics of Darfur’s IDP Camps” (page 47):

“[Lack of effective camp management] is more often the result of calculated attacks on those carrying out the day-to-day work of managing and running the camps. More than in any other sector, [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations (NGOs)] and UN agencies involved in camp coordination functions have found themselves closely monitored and harassed by government officials, who have subjected them to bureaucratic restrictions, accusations of inappropriate activities, and sometimes expulsions. The most visible example of this treatment was the suspension on several occasions of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in charge of coordination activities in Kalma; it eventually withdrew completely from Darfur. A growing number of prominent international NGOs followed suit, leaving many camps either without any management at all or managed by organizations with limited capacity and experience. Increasingly, these are national NGOs, which are even more susceptible to government harassment.”

The largest consequences of this war of attrition against humanitarian efforts should be clear to all. As Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 32 declares in its introductory overview:

“The humanitarian situation in Darfur has become increasingly precarious. The combination of high levels of insecurity, poor harvests, difficulties in bringing supplies into Darfur, reduction in the quality of humanitarian services, reduced food rations, and overcrowded Internally Displaced Persons camps is truly alarming.” (page 3)

This assessment is echoed by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which in August was forced by insecurity to suspend operations in North Darfur serving some 65,000 civilians:

“In the last four years, the situation [in Darfur] has not improved. In fact, for most people, things have gotten worse. Conditions in many of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and in rural areas have deteriorated, and the insecurity is a major concern for ordinary people. People are living in fear. Every day is a question mark for survival.” (MSF Alert, Vol. 11, No. 8, Summer 2008, page 6)

These conditions derive not from shortcomings in humanitarian commitment or courage, or from a lack of financial resources—though this may soon become an issue as donor fatigue inevitably sets in, and other parts of Africa cry out for the same kind of intensive humanitarian response. The increasingly desperate situation for civilians and humanitarians in Darfur is a function of insecurity that Khartoum is deliberately exacerbating, and of policies that deliberately threaten the lives of non-Arab populations in the region, both in the camps and in rural areas. It is no defense of the regime to say that banditry and rebel actions also contribute to life-threatening insecurity, particularly given Khartoum’s deliberate sabotaging of UNAMID and its ability to provide security and address the threats to that security.


We can’t know all the ways in which the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has attacked, obstructed, compromised, and threatened UNAMID operations and deployment, though it is clear that there is a comprehensive policy designed to minimize the capabilities of this UN-authorized force. We can identify key moments that define Khartoum’s attitude toward UNAMID, and the ways in which the UN operation is militarily constrained by the regime’s actions.

Direct military assaults on UNAMID are the most significant of these actions.

[1] At approximately 10pm on January 7, 2008 Khartoum’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) attacked, deliberately and with premeditation, a UNAMID convoy. Comprising more than 20 cargo trucks and armored personnel carriers (APC’s), the convoy came under heavy, sustained fire near Tine, West Darfur. One truck was destroyed, an APC was damaged, and a driver was critically wounded with numerous bullet wounds. The SAF assault on the convoy lasted 10-12 minutes, during which time UNAMID military personnel did not return fire. The motive for the attack, certainly ordered by senior SAF military commanders, was to inhibit the movement of UNAMID ground and air forces during night hours. In other words, the attack was meant to serve warning that UNAMID would be restricted in the same ways that the impotent African Union mission in Darfur was restricted from the time of its initial deployment in 2004.

Evidence that the SAF attack was deliberate and premeditated was overwhelming, a conclusion clearly shared by then-UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guhenno, and many others within the UN, including within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In his January 9, 2007 briefing of the UN Security Council, Guhenno offered a number of compelling details, details amplified in confidential interviews conducted by this writer. The most basic facts of the attack and its circumstances make unambiguously clear that Khartoum lied at every step of the way in its account of events, including initially denying that its forces were in any way involved in the attack on the UNAMID convoy. For a full account of the evidence available, see my January 15, 2008 analysis at: http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article200.html.

[2] On July 8, 2008, at approximately 2:45pm local time, heavily armed Janjaweed militia attacked a joint police and military patrol of the UN/African Union Mission in Sudan (UNAMID) in an area approximately 100 kilometers southeast of el-Fasher, near the village of Umm Hakibah (North Darfur). In a firefight that lasted approximately three hours, seven UNAMID troops and police were killed and twenty-two were injured, seven of these critically. Ten vehicles were destroyed or taken during the attack. Although there was initial uncertainty about the identity of the attacking force, this uncertainty was eliminated in the course of a preliminary investigation. In addition to various published reports, then-UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Guhenno offered a compelling July 11, 2008 briefing to the UN Security Council in closed session, making a number of telling observations that point unambiguously to Janjaweed forces as those responsible:

[a] Guhenno told the Security Council that the attack on UN-authorized peacekeepers “took place in an area under Sudanese government control and that some of the assailants were dressed in clothing similar to Sudanese army uniforms. He also said the ambush was ‘pre-meditated and well-organized’ and was intended to inflict casualties rather than to steal equipment or vehicles” (Voice of America [dateline: UN/New York], July 11, 2008). The peacekeepers attacked reported seeing approximately 200 fighters, many on horses—a signature feature of the Janjaweed.

[b] Agence France Presse reports: “Guehenno was quoted as saying that the ambush was designed ‘to inflict casualties and was carried out with ‘equipment usually not used by (rebel) militias” ([dateline: UN/New York], July 11, 2008). Separately and confidentially, a UN official went further in confirming to this writer that some of the arms used, including large-caliber recoilless rifles, have never been seen in the arsenals of the rebel groups. This official said that Guhenno, then on the verge of retirement, had rarely been so explicit in assigning responsibility for attacks in Darfur.

There is additional evidence that the Janjaweed—armed and in this case almost certainly directed by Khartoum’s military command—were responsible for the attack on 61 UNAMID soldiers, 10 civilian police officers, and two military observers, who were returning to their el-Fasher base after investigating the killing of two civilians. For a full account of the evidence implicating the Janjaweed and Khartoum in this attack on UNAMID, see my analysis at: http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article219.html.

[c] In May it was again the Janjaweed that attacked a well-armed UNAMID convoy. The New York Times reported at the time (May 23, 2008 [dateline: Dakar]):

“Militiamen in Sudanese Army uniforms ambushed a convoy of Nigerian peacekeepers in Darfur, robbing them of cash and weapons, United Nations officials said Friday. No one was wounded in the attack, which took place on Wednesday [May 21, 2008] near Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State, but it was nonetheless a humiliating blow to the hybrid United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force, which is struggling to prove it can do better than the African force it replaced.”

[d] And again, in an attack revealing remarkable contempt for UNAMID, Khartoum’s security forces in el-Fasher (capital of North Darfur) assaulted a UNAMID investigator in the course of his duties:

“The [UNAMID] security officer went to the market area in El Fasher yesterday [May 21, 2008] to investigate a road accident involving a UN staff member, a military vehicle, and a taxi, according to UNAMID. He had just started taking pictures of the scene when a small group of military personnel assaulted him, despite the intervention of UNAMID civilian staff.” (UNAMID public statement [Khartoum], May 22, 2008)


A key task that should be undertaken by UNAMID is establishing a full record of all reported and confirmed attacks in which there are civilian casualties. If mapped with sufficient data, this would reveal many of the deadly patterns of Khartoum’s military activities. But too often UNAMID, as was true of its African Union predecessor, neither reports nor investigates such attacks. Many times this is simply because of logistical and transport shortcomings, as well as lack of manpower and communications capacity. Other times UNAMID simply defers to Khartoum and does not travel to sites of alleged civilian casualties, or investigation is highly belated, with civilian witnesses scattered and Khartoum already committed to more of its brazen lies. Certainly UNAMID has not intervened to protect civilians, as revealed most dismayingly during the February 2008 assault on civilian targets in the large corridor directly north of el-Geneina.

There, in the wake of military successes by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), as well as provocative threats from JEM’s leadership about capturing el-Geneina, Khartoum launched a massive counter-insurgency campaign fully reminiscent of the village destruction of 2003 to early 2005. JEM had captured, with little resistance, several towns in this region, including Sileah, Abu Surouj, and Sirba—all about 20-30 miles north and northwest of el-Geneina. But by the time Khartoum’s campaign began, the rebels had retreated. Even so, Khartoum’s violence was massive, indiscriminate, and unconstrained. Contemporaneous accounts from civilian victims, humanitarians and human rights groups, intrepid journalists, and eventually UN personnel suggest how destructive Khartoum’s violence remains. An estimated 50,000-60,000 people were newly displaced by the regime’s assault:

“A refugee from Sileah told the UN High Commission for Refugees 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.” (Reuters ([dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], February 10, 2008)

Human Rights Watch minced no words, highlighting also a 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)

Individual civilians offered their own harrowing accounts: Abu Surouj 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.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on 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)

Nothing has changed in the genocidal nature of Khartoum’s campaign of human destruction, as these accounts from north of el-Geneina clearly reveal:

“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. (For a fuller account of the February 2008 assault north of el-Geneina, see my analysis at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html.)

It seems pointless to note that existing UN resolutions ban all military flights by Khartoum over Darfur. These indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets in West Darfur not only violate international law, but Khartoum’s own obligations under the specific terms of UN demands. It would seem equally pointless to note yet again the only meaningful “demand” of UN Security Council Resolution 1556, viz. that Khartoum disarm its Janjaweed allies and bring the militia leaders to justice. This “demand” has meant absolutely nothing for more than four years—a fact that figures prominently in Khartoum’s present calculations about military and security actions.

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). Yet recently an Iranian military drone was shot down over Darfur by rebels. The drone was almost certainly controlled by Iranian military personnel, though Khartoum fantastically claims that the drone was spraying crops with a pesticide. The Sudan Tribune (August 17, 2008) reports that:

“The Sudanese government has bought fifty trucks from the Ural truck plan located in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region and incorporated in the GAZ groups. The Ural-4320 is a general purpose off-road 6×6 truck produced for use in the Russian Army. [ ] The Rual-4320 is also used for drilling for water, oil and gas drilling rigs, which are mounted on the Ural-4320 chassis.”


These trucks will be deployed to Darfur—or possibly to the Nuba Mountains. For while Khartoum is aware of the nature of international scrutiny of its actions in Darfur—perhaps all that prevents a wholesale assault on the displaced persons camps and humanitarian operations—there is increasing evidence that the regime is determined to have its military way in the three border areas contested in final negotiation of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” (CPA) (January 2005) between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). One of these areas, the Abyei region of northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile Provinces, very nearly became the flashpoint for renewed war this past May, in part because the UN peace support operation in southern Sudan (UNMIS) failed either to forestall or respond to Khartoum’s deliberate attempts to provoke conflict. The regime’s decision to destroy Abyei town, displacing many tens of thousands of civilians, could easily have sparked renewed war. Similarly, growing militarization along ethnic lines in the Nuba Mountains—a region roughly the size of Austria in Southern Kordofan Province—could spark an uncontrollable outbreak of violence.

In 1992 the National Islamic Front declared a “jihad,” or holy war, against all in the Nuba Mountains who supported the SPLA. A culturally rich, ethnically diverse region—with Muslims, Christians, and animists traditionally living together—became the target of a total humanitarian embargo that lasted more than a decade. The African populations of the Nuba, like those of the oil regions to the south and west, became the particular target of Khartoum’s violence and policy of slow starvation. Compulsory Islamization was common, as was violent human displacement to effect land clearances benefiting Khartoum’s cronies who had designs on the most fertile land in the Nuba. Areas such as Kauda were subject to relentless aerial attacks, deliberately targeting schools, churches, clinics, and what humanitarian relief managed to slip through the blockade.

There is no scope in the present analysis for any substantial account of the current situation in the Nuba, but an excellent report on the region has recently been published by the Small Arms Survey/Human Security Baseline Assessment (“The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and Militarization in the Nuba Mountains,” August 2008, at http://allafrica.com/stories/200808260530.html). This historically informed and detailed account makes clear that the region is on the verge of slipping into a Darfur-like conflict, with some of the same ethnic tensions deliberately inflamed by Khartoum. Indeed, the report concludes with an explicit comparison to Darfur:

“It is clear that security is the biggest immediate challenge in the Nuba Mountains. A combination of weak political will, an international community distracted by Darfur, and UNMIS’s underperformance has led to the failure of CPA implementation in South Kordofan. Ethnic tensions are mounting in the region, and recovery and development plans are overshadowed by the danger of a return to open conflict. Discontent over the CPA’s failure to deliver economic development is turning to anger, and many now view war in the Nuba Mountains as inevitable. An emerging local narrative sees parallels with the events that led to the Darfur conflict.”

Among the notable moments in the body of the report is the account offered by the head of Khartoum’s security apparatus for the region, which grimly anticipates similar instructions given to the SAF and Janjaweed militias in Darfur:

“The head of security in South Kordofan, who later sought political asylum in Switzerland, said the orders given to government troops were ‘to kill anything that is aliveto destroy everything, to burn the area so that nothing can exist there.'”

For their part, most Nubans have shared the vision of their brilliant and charismatic leader, Yousif Kuwa Mekke, whose outlook is reflected in the best of the Darfur rebels:

“Long regarded as second-class citizens by Sudan’s Arab elite, the Nuba’s indigenous cultures and religions were suppressed, and local languages banned. Many reacted to political, economic, and social marginalization by taking up arms against the government in the mid-1980s. This followed harassment and government attacks on Nuba villages suspected of having joined the SPLA uprising in South Sudan. Under the leadership of a former teacher, Yousif Kuwa Mekke, they demanded the ‘right to be Nuba’ and an end to marginalization in all its forms. As ‘Africans’ within the political boundaries of Arab-dominated northern Sudan, they fervently supported SPLA Chairman John Garang’s vision of a ‘New Sudan,’ in which all Sudanese would have equal rights and duties, irrespective of ethnicity.”

It is the countrywide suppression of such aspirations that has defined the National Islamic Front during its 19 years of tyrannical rule: in the Nuba, in Southern Sudan, in the Eastern Provinces (especially among the non-Arab Beja peoples), and in Darfur. Khartoum’s response to efforts by Sudanese people to secure true equality has inevitably been savagely violent repression, as we see in Darfur today. And the willingness to resort to what this report calls “an inflammatory mix of Arab supremacy and Islamic extremism” has been as evident in the Nuba Mountains as it has been in Darfur—and the signs of a resurgence of this hateful and cruelly deployed ideology are everywhere. The report notes:

“Concern over a resurgence of Arab supremacism deepened in mid 2007 after a series of ethnically-targeted attacks of unusual brutality.”

The report also cites the findings of the distinguished Sudan Organization Against Torture:

“‘This trend of attacks on innocent civilians has been repeated in many areas of the eastern part of South Kordofan, and mainly carried out by well-organized Arab militias determined to destabilize the area and create a sense of insecurity among the population, mostly black African tribes, to induce them to flee.'”

Of the Central Reserve Police (CRP), active in the brutal May 2008 assaults in the Tawilla area of North Darfur, the report describes this force as having strong militia connections, including to the most notorious Janjaweed leader, Musa Hilal—now part of the Khartoum regime. The CRP is commanded by the Interior Ministry and is made up of Arab militiamen extremely loyal to the National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) leadership; this force has been extremely heavily armed, and because its membership is from outside the Nuba region, it is willing to engage in the most brutal forms of warfare. The Popular Defense Forces (PDF) in the Nuba are also “now being rearmed with a strong ethnic bias”:

“Growing ethnic insecurity in the region has the potential to deteriorate significantly over the coming months and needs urgent attention to prevent it from spiraling out of control.”

These words could, of course, have been used to describe Darfur for years prior to the outbreak of full-blown hostilities in 2003. And we should have no doubt that Khartoum’s heavy militarization of the Nuba, with corresponding responses from the SPLA, may well lead to a new bloodbath, with huge numbers of civilians again caught in violence that serves only the interests of Khartoum in its continuing arrogation of national power and wealth. Indeed, one of the most important observations in this new report on the Nuba points to the clear electoral implications of recent ethnic violence:

“Political analysts link recent violence in the east [of the Nuba Mountains] to the 2009 elections and preparations by the government hardliners to achieve political ends through military means in an area of the Nuba Mountains where the SPLM/A has only recently begun to win support.”

In fact, the idea that Khartoum will allow free and fair elections in Sudan next year, as scheduled by the CPA, seems increasingly fanciful. There has never been any reason to believe that Khartoum would live up to this commitment, even as it has abrogated countless other obligations under the CPA. Whether through military intimidation, fraud, bribery, a factitious coup d’etat, or simply arrogant denial, the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum will never willingly surrender the power its has so ruthlessly accumulated over so many years.

This ruthlessness, unchecked by the international community, has led to the ongoing horrors of Darfur. It may soon extend to other regions of Sudan.