January 21, 2004
Reuters reports today that Ahmed Dirdeiry, Khartoum’s deputy ambassador in Nairobi and an authoritative spokesman for the National Islamic Front regime, has signaled a lengthy and ominous break in the peace talks, even as these talks have approached their most critical juncture. Dirdeiry has declared that chief NIF negotiator and First Vice President Ali Osman Taha will soon leave for the Muslim “haj” pilgrimage to Mecca:
“‘The Vice President (Ali Osman Mohamed Taha) intends to go on the haj. It begins at the end of the month, the specific date (of his departure) has not been finalised,’ Sudan’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, Ahmed Dirdeiry, told Reuters. ‘If the Vice President goes on the haj then the talks will be adjourned.'” (Reuters, January 21, 2004)
The slippage in a date for completion of the peace negotiations between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has already become ominous: after committing to a December 31, 2003 deadline, both sides were then expected to complete a deal by early January 2004. The deadline then became defined by President Bush’s State of the Union Address (January 20, 2004). If peace talks are adjourned until Taha completes his participation in the “haj,” then the date slips to mid-February—or later.
Just how disturbing this development is can be gleaned from the response to Reuters by chief IGAD mediator in the Naivasha (Kenya) peace talks, Lazarus Sumbeiywo—this before it became known that the source of the comments about Taha’s “haj” was NIF Deputy Ambassador Ahmed Dirdeiry:
“The chief mediator of the talks, Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said Taha had not mentioned any upcoming absences or a break in the talks and cast doubt on the comments out of Khartoum. ‘He hasn’t told me of any break that is coming up,’ Sumbeiywo said. ‘I don’t think he would want to leave without an agreement. It would mean that he is not serious, and yet I know he is serious in these talks. There are two camps in Khartoum: those who want to get an agreement and those who don’t,’ Sumbeiywo said. ‘This claim that he is going for the haj could be from those who are against.'” (Reuters, January 20, 2004)
Sumbeiywo is well aware of how expedient, duplicitous, and reneging Khartoum can be in the peace process: he’s seen numerous instances since serious negotiations began following the Machakos Protocol of July 2002, guaranteeing a southern self-determination referendum. The clear inference of his remarks is that he would put Ahmed Dirdeiry in the “camp” of those in Khartoum who don’t want a peace agreement; but on previous evidence we may just as readily assume that this whole episode has been orchestrated, perhaps as a means of bringing pressure to bear on the SPLM/A while US special envoy John Danforth is in the region.
Danforth has been strikingly unhelpful in the negotiations and seems incapable of maintaining diplomatic even-handedness. This was most evident when he represented Egyptian views on self-determination for southern Sudan prior to the signing of the Machakos Protocol, when he pointedly told the SPLM/A to give up on the idea of self-determination. This potentially disastrous diplomatic misstep—urging the south to give up on its bedrock principle—is all too revealing of Danforth’s ignorance and impatience. Khartoum evidently hopes to enlist that ignorance and impatience in resolving to its satisfaction the key outstanding issues of the contested areas of Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains, and Abyei.
The most currently reliable reports suggest that Abyei has proved to be, surprisingly, the most difficult of the three areas on which to reach diplomatic agreement. This is unusual, given its size (it is a great deal smaller than the Nuba Mountains, which is roughly the size of Austria) and the relative clarity of Abyei’s claims to self-determination. Such self-determination was explicitly promised in the 1972 Addis Ababa peace accord, though a previous government in Khartoum reneged on the agreement. It has traditionally been an Ngok Dinka enclave, and only recently has Khartoum facilitated the takeover of Abyei District by Missereiya Arab tribal groups.
To be sure, Abyei is in an oil rich part of Sudan—Concession Block 4 of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (comprising the national oil companies of India, China, and Malaysia). But if Khartoum were serious about peace, the geographic and political status of the Abyei enclave should not be an issue on which peace negotiations reach an impasse, especially given the equities reflected clearly in Abyei’s colonial and post-independence history. And yet Mutref Siddeiq, the undersecretary of the NIF Foreign Ministry, declared on January 17, 2004 that while there was considerable progress on the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile, the negotiating positions of the two sides on Abyei “remained irreconcilable” (Agence France-Presse, January 18, 2004).
Here we needn’t take at face value NIF President Omer Beshir’s bombastic claim (largely for Egyptian consumption) that the three disputed areas were not even up for negotiation to see that there is a very significant, if insidiously opaque contradiction. Beshir had earlier declared that “we have no mandate to resolve the issues [of the three disputed areas] in the current talks in Naivasha. One issue remains [ ], participation in power” (Reuters, January 14, 2004). This flies straight in the face of what fellow NIF members of the negotiating team, including Mutref Siddeiq, were saying publicly. But Abyei nonetheless remains the reason Khartoum gives for lack of progress in completing an agreement.
What does this mean?
It must be said first that there is no clear or obvious answer. To be sure, both sides in the negotiations certainly have a good deal at stake in Abyei, if for quite different reasons. But the stakes are not so high as to justify impasse, especially given the legitimate historic claims and original ethnic makeup of Abyei. The presence of the obdurately ill-informed John Danforth no doubt gives Khartoum some hope of squeezing something further from the negotiations by way of US pressure on the SPLM/A. But this, too, can go only so far in explaining the present situation.
Perhaps Khartoum is more riven politically than is recognized: as chief mediator Sumbeiywo has suggested, “There are two camps in Khartoum: those who want to get an agreement and those who don’t” (Reuters, January 20, 2004). Abyei may in effect be a “place holder” issue—the means of keeping talks in a kind of suspension while internal differences over the peace agreement (and perhaps how best to undermine it) proceed in Khartoum. Perhaps there are greater tensions between First Vice President Taha and President Beshir than observers are aware of.
But the war and attendant crisis in the far western regions of Darfur is the most obvious explanation for what we are seeing at the peace talks in Naivasha. Indeed, we find here all too much explanatory power. For a suspension of or delay in the Naivasha process gives wider scope for Khartoum to attempt to conclude the war on its own savage terms, even as much of the international community hesitates to speak honestly about the realities of Darfur for fear of upsetting the Khartoum-SPLM/A peace negotiations.
The regime is clearly accelerating the conflict, and all evidence indicates that it has decided upon a policy of indiscriminate counterinsurgency warfare, using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter gunships to attack villages and other civilian targets. Khartoum’s war effort is also increasingly defined by denial of humanitarian access (see below). And most conspicuously and destructively, the regime has given free rein to its Arab militia allies, the now heavily armed Janjaweed. Refugees streaming into Chad—almost 100,000 altogether and 30,000 in December 2003 alone (UN News Release, January 9, 2004)—are bringing with them horrific stories of civilian destruction, murder, rape, and pillaging.
All these weapons of war have a chilling familiarity in Sudan, and though access to Darfur is largely impossible, the evidence being gathered by investigators and humanitarian organizations unambiguously suggests that the African peoples of Darfur—the Fur, Masseleit, Zaghawa—are being destroyed and displaced on a massive scale by Khartoum’s attacks and those of its Arab militia allies. We are witnessing what amounts to a concerted effort to destroy the ethnic base of support for the insurgency movements that have sprung from decades of discrimination, abuse, and marginalization. This is genocide. The New York Times recorded, with one of the first datelines from Darfur, the terrifying words of a refugee who had just crossed the border from Darfur into neighboring Chad:
“Tamur Bura Idriss, 31, said he lost his uncle and grandfather. He heard the gunmen say, ‘You blacks, we’re going to exterminate you.’ He fled deeper into Chad that night.” (New York Times [dateline: Tine, Darfur] January 17, 2004)
The numbers that lie behind this one voice are staggeringly large—over 700,000 people displaced since February 2003 and more than 1 million now war-affected. We have no clear way of ascertaining the number of people who have perished, but it is all too reasonable to assume that many thousands have already died—and that perhaps tens of thousands will die in the next months.
What is the most recent evidence of genocidal ambitions? What are the most recent statements by humanitarian and human rights organizations about Darfur and Khartoum’s actions in prosecuting this war of human destruction? And what are the parallels to Khartoum’s conduct of war in the south for the past 20 years?
 Denial of humanitarian access.
Key organizations involved in attempting to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur are all reporting that humanitarian access is deteriorating, not improving, despite Khartoum’s claims to the contrary. In early December 2003, UN special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan said humanitarian operations “have practically come to a standstill” (UN Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003).
More recently, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres has reported on a number of developments that portend what the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization is describing as “a humanitarian catastrophe waiting to happen” (Voice of America, January 20, 2004). MSF’s Dr. Mercedes Tatay declared that:
“the forcible relocation of displaced people by the government in the region [acting of course at Khartoum’s behest—ER] is making it difficult for any humanitarian activity to take place. She says Doctors Without Borders has moved its operations away from Nyala, because as she puts it, ‘it is no longer safe’ for the group to work there.” (Voice of America, January 20, 2004)
Nyala is one of the key towns in Darfur, and had been one of the few places of relative refuge for fleeing civilians. And yet Khartoum’s local authorities were observed by Doctors Without Borders engaging in deliberate assaults on the organization’s humanitarian efforts; the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network reported:
“Authorities in Nyala, southern Darfur, closed two camps housing 10,000 displaced people on Thursday [January 15, 2004], following a failed attempt to relocate them to new camps without their consent, according to [Doctors Without Borders] Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The new camps were located about 20 km outside of Nyala ‘in an area considered unsafe’ due to ongoing fighting, difficult to access for humanitarian workers, and where there was neither shelter, food, nor sufficient access to water and latrines, said MSF.
“On Wednesday, the authorities had arrived at the camps and begun the ‘forced transfer’ of people by trucks to the new sites, [MSF] reported, after which a number of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled in panic. Some of these families have severely malnourished children. By Thursday morning, when police and other authorities arrived in the camps, they were up to 90 percent empty, most of the population having fled.
“MSF teams were being prevented from distributing drinking water to those who were left and, for the second consecutive day, malnourished children were prevented from receiving the vital care they needed, said a statement.”
(UN IRIN, January 16, 2004)
Surely the ominous phrase “forced transfer” must raise the gravest of concerns for anyone with a sense of history in the 20th century. Moreover, this development in Nyala augurs extremely poorly for all other urban centers in the three regions of Darfur. Kutum, in Northern Darfur, was accessible by US Agency for International Development officials last fall; it is now also completely inaccessible for humanitarian work. Only Al-Fashir and Junaynah offer any access, and this is hopelessly inadequate to the massive crisis.
An overview of the situation has recently been provided by the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan:
“Only 15 percent of people are in areas that are accessible by the UN. And even access to these continues to be hampered by difficulties obtaining travel permits [from Khartoum]” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, January 12, 2004).
 Statements by humanitarian and human rights organizations.
Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs: “the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is probably the worst in the world today” (“The World,” BBC/Public Radio International, December 18, 2003)
Amnesty International (January 7, 2004): “The conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur has worsened. Amnesty International is receiving lists of hundreds of civilians killed and villages destroyed. We now also have names of children said to have been abducted by government-supported militias.”
“The Sudanese air force has bombed villages but most of the killing and destruction has been carried out by the government-supported militias known as the Janjawid. Over the past week, more than 200 people, mostly women and children, have been killed and scores of villages around Zalingei town in West Darfur state have been attacked over the past week by government armed forces and Janjawid militias. Homes were burnt and livestock and possessions looted”
(Amnesty International Press Release, January 7, 2004)
Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan:
“Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.”
“[While the Khartoum regime has] presented the security situation [in Darfur] as steadily improving, [this account] sharply contrasted with first-hand reports that I received from tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground. They reported that [Khartoum-backed Arab] militias were launching systematic raids against civilian populations. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted.”
(Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres: “The relocation [in Nyala, Darfur] is being undertaken despite indicators showing that the health of the population is already precarious. At present, mortality rates are already high in the camps where there is minimal assistance available: in the last two weeks, there have been 6 deaths/per 10,000 persons/per day for children under the age of five. This is a rate that indicates an emergency medical situation.” (Press Release, January 15, 2004)
The International Crisis Group (ICG): “[Khartoum-backed Arab militias] are attacking unprotected villages with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile” (ICG, “Sudan: Towards an Incomplete Peace,” Dec. 11, 2003; http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=2416).
The UN High Commission for Refugees: “UNHCR interviewed [in the Chad/Sudan border region] some of the recently arrived refugees, all of whom gave similar accounts of their flight: militia men—known as the Janjaweed—attack villages, first shooting people caught in the streets. The attacks usually start early in the morning, around 6am. The militia then raid village house, stealing everything, including livestock.” (Press Release, United Nations High Commission for Refugees [Geneva], January 9, 2004)
The Committee on Conscience of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: “In addition to pitting ethnic groups against each other, the [Khartoum] government is using other tactics, the use of which in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains led the Committee on Conscience to issue a Genocide Warning, including restrictions on humanitarian access, which threatens mass starvation, and aerial bombardment of civilian targets.” (January 2004 reiteration of Genocide Warning for Sudan; http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/sudan/sudan.php)AA
 Parallels with the war in southern Sudan.
The above compendium should suggest several striking parallels between Khartoum’s war on the marginalized African peoples of Darfur and the regime’s twenty-year war on the people of the south (and allied marginalized areas such as the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile): (a) conduct of the war is both brutally destructive and overwhelmingly directed against the civilian population perceived as supporting resistance to Khartoum’s tyranny; (b) there is an unmistakable racial animus in the war, with African peoples the clear target of destruction; and (c) despite much hand-wringing, the international community has yet to resolve upon an effective course of action in confronting Khartoum over its barbarism, its savage campaign of extermination.
Yet the appropriate response is painfully obvious. Khartoum should be given an ultimatum now: either declare and observe an immediate cease-fire, and begin peace negotiations forthwith under credible international auspices, or face the prospect of a robust humanitarian intervention. All other alternatives responses will clearly consign thousands of innocent men, women, and children to their destruction in Darfur. This is morally intolerable.
To be sure, some will argue that Darfur should be dealt with only after a peace agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM/A has been concluded—that responding to the plight of Darfur will roil the diplomatic waters. But today’s news concerning Vice President Taha’s “haj” pilgrimage—whether true or not—clearly suggests that Khartoum is willing to manipulate the time-table for conclusion of peace negotiations. With so many hundreds of thousands of lives at risk in Darfur, there can be no further waiting for a decisive international response.
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