May 3, 2004
Reports continue to stream in from the Chad/Darfur (Sudan) border, and from within Darfur itself, making clear that the nominal cease-fire of April 8, 2004 exists chiefly as an example of yet another worthless piece of paper bearing the signature of the Khartoum regime. Amnesty International reports that “on 28 April  Sudanese planes bombed Kolbus village in Chad and the Janjawid attacked refugees and Chadian civilians across the border” (Amnesty International, Public Statement, April 30, 2004). The US State Department reported aerial attacks in Darfur by Khartoum the first day of the cease-fire (April 12, 2004). There are numerous other highly authoritative reports on violations of the cease-fire by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia over the last three weeks.
The BBC recently reported on particularly serious instances of Khartoum’s escalation of the conflict into neighboring Chad, where 120,000-130,000 refugees have fled Khartoum’s violence against the African civilian populations in Darfur:
“Chadian troops have deployed on their border after a clash with Sudan forces.
A Chadian government spokesman said the troops would protect local civilians and refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan who are sheltering in the area. The clash is the first to involve army troops since Sudanese civilians began fleeing into Chad a year ago. The incident occurred after Arab militia staged a cross-border raid in Chad. Chad troops pursued them until they encountered Sudanese forces.
“Chadian official Allami Ahmat, who helped to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur earlier this month, said the incident was proof that the Janjaweed militia had not been disarmed as promised by the Sudanese government delegation at the peace talks. ‘This situation is all the more unacceptable because the Sudanese army tolerates and offers land and air backup to the Janjaweed militias,’ he said. The UN has accused Sudan of backing Arab militias in a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against black residents in Darfur.” (BBC, April 30, 2004)
But in addition to the continuously reported cross-border raids by the Janjaweed, attacking fleeing civilians and refugees, there are now extremely credible reports from the ground in Chad indicating that Khartoum is preparing for much greater military incursions. Indeed, within the humanitarian community on the ground in Chad, there are increasing concerns about the larger implications of escalating military tensions along the Chad/Darfur border. The growing number and seriousness of these military incursions into Chad, by both Khartoum’s regular forces and its Janjaweed militia allies, not only threaten refugees but also threaten humanitarian aid personnel. We must bear in mind that the area from Abeche to the Chad/Darfur border is quite remote, and that it will be very difficult to control and patrol this part of the country if Khartoum decides to make international humanitarian presence untenable by creating excessive levels of insecurity.
And this appears to be precisely the goal. A humanitarian official in Chad has reported to this writer a conversation in which a Khartoum official was heard declaring that, “Abeche will not be made into another Lokichokio.” This strongly suggests that Khartoum has decided that Abeche (90 miles from the Chad/Darfur border) will not serve as a humanitarian staging area, as Lokichokio (northwest Kenya) now is for southern Sudan, through the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan. Khartoum’s counter-insurgency strategy of destroying the civilian base of support for the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) requires that there be no viable base for humanitarian operations near the border area.
Khartoum’s long history of obstructing humanitarian aid in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, and its present “systematic denial” of humanitarian aid within Darfur (this is the assessment of senior UN officials), make all too clear the likelihood of a policy of humanitarian interference in Chad. Indeed, there is increasingly persuasive evidence that such interference is rapidly moving further and further into Chad toward Abeche, and that Khartoum is prepared to carry out military operations well within Chadian territory. Evidence also suggests that it is highly likely that covert military intelligence operations are now underway.
This should hardly be surprising given the impunity with which Khartoum is violating the present (unmonitored) cease-fire agreement. Amnesty International reported on April 30, 2004:
“Attacks on villages continue; indiscriminate and deliberate killings of civilians continue; looting continues and rapes continue. Most detainees imprisoned because of the conflict have not been released. The African Union monitors designated to investigate every ceasefire violation are not yet in place.
“This is not an unavoidable ethnic conflict. It is a tragedy deliberately created by the government’s support for the Janjawid and fuelled by total impunity for grave violations of human rights.” (Amnesty International, Public Statement, April 30, 2004)
Because Khartoum enjoys impunity in its continuing violations of the cease-fire agreement—moderating its genocidal campaign with what can only be described as tactical curtailments of certain military actions—there is no chance whatsoever that civilians remaining in Darfur will be able to take advantage of the very few days left before present seasonal planting must be completed (the UN is now acknowledging as much). Rather, instead of returning to their lands, the African peoples of Darfur continue to stream into Chad, unwilling to confront the relentless menace of Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies. The UN News Center recently reported from Bahai (site of the northernmost of the UN refugee camps in Chad) that:
“200 to 300 Sudanese refugees have been crossing weekly from the Darfur region into Chad since the beginning of April, an agency spokesman said today. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva that new refugees in the town of Bahai, joining the 7,000 already registered there, told the team that they fled after Sudanese militia members attacked them on 2 April, looting and burning their homes.”
(UN News Center, April 27, 2004)
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports today:
“More refugees continue to arrive at Tolom daily [the north-central sector of the UN refugee camps]. ‘Everyday new people are coming on foot, on donkeys, in convoys,’ Alfred Demotibaye the Tolom camp manager, who works for the Chadian branch of Caritas, told IRIN.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 3, 2004)
The response of the international community, both to the humanitarian crisis and to the genocidal ambitions that have created this crisis, remains disgracefully inadequate. Instead of speaking with urgency and focus about the nature of the humanitarian intervention that is so clearly required, both the UN and the Western democracies continue to speak as if there is still time to avert catastrophe. To be sure, their pronouncements are not without some accuracy:
“The United Nations warned today that the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan, will worsen dramatically unless security there is immediately improved and humanitarian agencies have better access to those in need.” (UN News Service (New York), May 1, 2004
But this does not tell the fuller and more consequential story. For even with immediately improved security—and there is not a shred of evidence that this is in prospect—the crisis will worsen dramatically. The UN and the rest of the international community have simply waited too long. With the onset of seasonal rains (alluded to later in this UN dispatch), there is no way that adequate supplies—especially of food—can be pre-positioned. This can occur now only with robust humanitarian intervention (see outline by this writer of a plan for such intervention using Sudan’s rail system; available upon request).
A much more appropriate sense of urgency is captured in the April 28, 2004 public statement by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), presently operating heroically, under extremely difficult circumstances, in West Darfur (Zalinge, Mornay, Kerenik, Garsila, Um Kherr, Bindisi, Mukjar, Deleig, and Nyertiti):
“Without an urgent response and the massive and immediate pre-positioning of food, medicines and shelters, the threat to the survival of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons will increase when the rainy season begins in May and roads become impassable, further hindering the delivery of assistance. Urgent action is required.” (MSF Press Release [New York], April 28, 2004)
But it is already May, the rains are beginning, and there is nothing remotely approaching what will be required to feed the more than 1 million food-dependent civilians in Chad and Darfur for a year or more. With characteristically blunt honesty, MSF declares:
“Despite announcements of forthcoming aid, assistance is utterly inadequate. Mobilization of aid efforts is slow and the few organizations operating in Darfur cannot meet the full range of needs.” (MSF Press Release [New York], April 28, 2004)
Most of the world continues to speak as though this crisis can be managed with present plans, with prospective supplies, and with the transport scheme presently in use. But this is simply not the case. The road between the Chadian capital of N’Djamena and Abeche will soon be cut by the rains and the subsequently flooded wadis, as will the road from Abeche to the Darfur/Chad border. And those transport vehicles that might be able to make the journey from Abeche to Darfur, over the next few weeks and during the next dry season, are now clearly threatened by the growing insecurity deliberately being engineered by Khartoum. There must be an alternate transportation route, and time is of the essence. MSF again presents an unvarnished account of the realities presently obtaining:
“The Health of Hundreds of Thousands of Displaced People Worsens Dramatically (press release headline):
“Because of the lack of appropriate, urgently needed aid, the health of displaced people in Sudan’s Darfur region—particularly children—is radically worsening. MSF teams also see a drastic decline in people’s nutritional status, particularly among children.”
“People in the region are completely dependent on aid to survive.”
“The food pipeline is drying up, with up to one million people trapped with no protection, little assistance, and little food or shelter.” (MSF Press Release [New York], April 28, 2004)
A region terrorized by uncontrolled marauding militia forces, with no harvest in sight for next fall, with road access from Chad on the verge of being severed, facing Khartoum’s “systematic denial” of humanitarian aid, and without any adequate pre-positioning of food, Darfur is poised for utter, cataclysmic disaster. Figures from the US Agency for International Development suggest that hundreds of thousands may die from famine and disease over the next year; at the peak of the projected famine (December 2004) perhaps 2,500 people will be dying every day (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
There is only one question that honesty and any real concern for the people of Darfur can permit: are we prepared to allow the brutal and unrepresentative National Islamic Front regime to assert “national sovereignty” and thereby ensure the deaths of hundreds of thousands? Or is the international community prepared to ignore this absurd claim of “sovereignty” by Khartoum’s genocidaires and work urgently, insistently, and resourcefully to diminish as much as possible the already inevitable catastrophe in Darfur?
Human Rights Watch, in a powerful letter (April 28, 2004) to the UN Security Council, recalls the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:
“In his April 7  speech to the Commission on Human Rights, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the onset of the genocide in Rwanda, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that ‘the risk of genocide remains frighteningly real’ in Darfur: ‘It is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay. If that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action. By action in such situations, I mean a continuum of steps which may include military action.'” (Letter to UN Security Council members from Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, and Joanna Weschler, UN Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, April 28, 2004)
But we have heard no more from Kofi Annan, certainly nothing of this “continuum of steps”—or even what the first step must be. Mr. Annan has said nothing recently that speaks to the terrifying urgency of the crisis; rather he has retreated into banal comments, bland expressions of concern, and meaningless “urgings” (see April 27, 2004 statement: http://allafrica.com/stories/200404270339.html).
But silence, inconsequential pronouncements, and continued inaction change nothing on the ground in Darfur. The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, growing directly out of Khartoum’s genocidal conduct of war, continues to gather pace. Will the international community intervene to save hundreds of thousands of African lives at the most acute risk?
This is the question. No one is asking it aloud.
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