Darfur in Extremis: Khartoum Resumes Civilian Destruction in West Darfur
Eric Reeves, 19 February 2008
The international community seems unable to comprehend the overwhelming urgency of the security crisis for civilians and humanitarians north of el-Geneina in West Darfur. Over the past few days, the Khartoum regime has resumed the brutal campaign north of el-Geneina that began on February 8, 2008 (see my February 12, 2008 analysis of these initial assaults, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html). Many tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced; more than 12,000 have been forced to flee to Chad, where efforts to provide humanitarian assistance are encountering a range of severe challenges. And ominously, there are several reports that many hundreds of children remain unaccounted for. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network reports:
“‘There are an unknown number of children aged 12-18 who are missing, especially boys. Nobody knows what has happened to these children,’ Naqibullah Safi, head of UNICEF for West Darfur said.” (UN IRIN [dateline: Nairobi], February 14, 2008)
Given Khartoum’s and the Janjaweed’s well-established pattern of executing younger males on an ethnic basis—the people in this area north of el-Geneina are primarily from the non-Arab (or African) Massaleit and Erenga tribal groups—there is compelling reason to believe that many of these children have been murdered.
Even as the humanitarian communities in West Darfur and Eastern Chad struggle with previous violence against civilians, Khartoum is preparing to extend its brutal campaign. UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes yesterday (February 18, 2008) made clear in a public statement just how ominous the future of this tortured region now appears:
“[A]s the Government [of Sudan] has reportedly now banned all [humanitarian] flights to areas north of El Geneina for the next three days, further efforts to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground are limited. Reports from [West] Darfur, including reports of Sudanese Air Force and affiliated militia massing in the area and renewed aerial bombardment on the villages at the base of Jebel Moun today, indicate another wave of violence is imminent.”
The scale of human risk and trauma is also conveyed in Holmes’ statement:
“Rapid assessments have revealed severe consequences from the violence for some 160,000 civilians in the northern corridor connecting El Geneina and Kulbus, including the 20,000 currently at risk in Jebel Moun. The civilian population has experienced widespread displacement, property damage, and significant trauma and loss of life. Approximately 57,000 civilians were displaced due to the offensive. Along with countless homes, many compounds of non-governmental organizations have been looted or destroyed. Thousands of civilians have arrived in already overstretched Internally Displaced Persons camps near El Geneina or across the border into neighbouring Chad.”
160,000 civilians almost completely cut off from humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian organizations facing a flight ban. Many humanitarian compounds are a shambles. 57,000 civilians violently displaced, a number that grows rapidly by the day. And 20,000 civilians are in the Jebel Moun area, the clear site of Khartoum’s next military assault. Yesterday Khartoum bombed nearby Aro Sharow, home to a camp for displaced persons that was brutally assaulted by the Janjaweed in September 2005 (see below). This action comes as well-placed UN sources indicate they expect Khartoum to extend its brutal campaign further north in the next day or two.
These are the actions of a regime that feels it will face no significant consequences. The regime is also no doubt attempting to accelerate its genocidal campaign prior to deployment of the European Union force (EUFOR) to Eastern Chad and before the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) can gather the military muscle to extend itself to this particularly remote and insecure area of Darfur. But nothing does more to convince Khartoum that it may act with impunity than continuing diplomatic support and protection from the Chinese government. We have long since reached the point in the Darfur genocide in which China must bear primary international responsibility for enabling a campaign of human destruction and displacement that has now entered its sixth year.
Meanwhile, a good deal more evidence is emerging indicating the extent of Khartoum’s involvement in supporting Chadian rebels groups in their attack on N’Djamena (February 1-3, 2008) in an effort to topple the regime of Idriss Dby. Regional sources indicate that Khartoum’s coordination and supplying of the rebel groups was extremely extensive. The coup attempt by these Khartoum-backed rebels groups has left much of Eastern Chad in a highly precarious position, further threatening Darfuri refugees as well as Chadian displaced persons
Even as the scale of previous town and village destruction in Darfur is emerging more fully, tens of thousands of civilians are moving or preparing to move in the face of renewed ground and air onslaught—and will seek refuge in Chad. At the same time, Khartoum-supplied Janjaweed militia forces are coordinating with the regime’s regular forces, and again engaging in the brutal predations that have displaced so many in the course of the Darfur genocide.
THE PAST AS PRESENT
It has become a deadly and misleading commonplace to argue that the Darfur genocide ended after the most intense phase of ethnically-targeted violence against civilians (2003-2004). In fact, violent assaults by the Khartoum regime’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its Janjaweed militia proxies never ended, although such a large percentage of African villages have been destroyed that relatively few targets of opportunity remain. Even so, Khartoum launched a major offensive in North Darfur in August 2006 (the same month the UN authorized, but did not deploy, 22,500 civilian police and troops in a peace support operation designed to protect vulnerable civilians and humanitarians). A great deal of civilian destruction and displacement ensued, even as Khartoum’s military forces were badly battered by rebel forces, especially what was known at the time as the “Group of 19 Commanders.”
Even more consequentially, camps for internally displaced persons have gradually become primary targets for Janjaweed assaults, beginning with the destruction of Aro Sharow camp (West Darfur) in September 2005. At the time, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, referred to the attack on Aro Sharow (also Aru Sharu) and offered a grim snapshot of genocidal violence in a surprisingly blunt press release:
“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. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.”
Kingibe reported on other attacks on civilians as well:
“On 18 September 2005, simultaneous attacks at Khartoum Djadeed, Sandego, Khasantongur, Tary, Martal and Djabain resulted in the death of 12 civilians, 5 seriously wounded, and the displacement of about 4,000 civilians. Heavy and small weapons mounted on vehicles were reportedly used by the Government of Sudan, in close coordination with about 300 Janjaweed Arab militia. Most of the displaced people moved to ZamZam and Tawilla Internally Displaced Persons 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)
Juan Mendez, at the time UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, declared of the attack on Aro Sharow: “Until last week, there have never been concerted, massive attacks of an indiscriminate nature against civilians in camps in Darfur” (Washington Post, October 10, 2005). As many as 5,000 displaced civilians were forced to flee Aro Sharow, their flimsy shelters were destroyed, and dozens were killed. Subsequently there have been larger Janjaweed attacks on the camps, and Janjaweed presence around the camps is the greatest source of civilian insecurity.
THE PRESENT AS FUTURE
Violence against Aro Sharow (approximately 75 kilometers north of el-Geneina) has not ended. Extremely well-placed sources within the humanitarian community report that on the morning of February 18, 2008 five bombs were dropped on Aro Sharow. The population that had remained in or returned to Aro Sharow has now fled to mountainous Jebel Moun to the east; but these same humanitarian sources report that Khartoum’s bombing appears to be following the civilians into the Jebel Moun area. Reuters reports [dateline: el-Geneina, West Darfur], February 18, 2008): “Convoys of trucks full of soldiers and armed police have been seen along the road north of el-Geneina.” UN sources indicate confidentially that there is full expectation that these troops and aerial attacks will focus on the 20,000 extremely vulnerable civilians in the Jebel Moun area.
The presence of unconstrained Janjaweed militia forces is indisputable, despite Khartoum’s absurd claim that they are “bandits” and beyond their control. A Reuters dispatch from Kondobe town (between el-Geneina and the primary targets of the current campaign that began further north in the area of Silea, Sirba, and Abu Suruj) reports:
“Survivors of the attacks [in the Silea, Sirba, Abu Suruj area] speak of khaki-clad camel and horseback militia they call Janjaweed who stole, raped and killed before the army entered and drove them away. Sudan’s army said these were criminal gangs who took advantage of the offensive to loot and denied any links to them. In Kondobe, locals pointed out men on horses and camels roaming through the town market in broad daylight and said they were the looters. Some of the riders wore green army uniforms and carried rifles. When asked, they said they were civilians.” (February 18, 2008)
How many real civilians have been displaced in a campaign evidently designed to displace or destroy both rebels and the entire civilian population north of el-Geneina? The UN now estimates 57,000 have been displaced, though that number is rising rapidly. Still, the number is much lower than the rebel figure of 200,000 (unfortunately a figure misleadingly reported by Reuters on February 10, 2008 without indication of source). But more than a week after the first round of assaults on Silea, almost 25,000 had fled this town alone:
“Crammed into school buildings in the centre of Suleia, just 200 out of the West Darfur town’s original 25,000 population were left after an attack by militia and the Sudanese army.” (Reuters [dateline: Suleia, West Darfur], February 14, 2008)
A great deal more human flight is occurring even now, and will continue until Khartoum is compelled to halt its attacks.
KHARTOUM’S MILITARY OFFENSIVE SPILLS INTO CHAD
Even beyond Sudan’s borders, the effects of Khartoum’s current military offensive against civilians and rebels are extremely dire, and threaten to push Chad and Sudan closer to war. But the consequences for civilians are most conspicuous. The UN High Commission for Refugees declared today (February 19, 2008) in Geneva:
“The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday it had withdrawn a team caring for refugees from the Chad/Darfur border after fresh aerial bombing in the conflict-riven Sudanese province. ‘Aerial bombardment overnight and this morning in West Darfur, Sudan, close to the border with Chad, has forced UNHCR to withdraw its team caring for newly arrived refugees in the Birak area [just over the border in Chad] away from the insecure border,’ spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists. [ ] ‘More arrivals are still expected and with the fresh bombing we can expect more displacement in West Darfur,’ Pagonis said.” (Agence France-Press [dateline: Geneva], February 19, 2008)
Confidential sources report that the bombing near Birak has been extremely intense, and the situation on the ground is highly unstable, with the possibility of a dramatic downturn.
At the same time, the Chadian regime of the increasingly embattled Idriss Dby has refused to give permission to move these newest and most vulnerable Darfuri refugees to safer camps further away from the border:
“On 11 February  Chadian Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassir Coumakoye said the government [of Chad] would refuse entry to any new Sudanese refugees. ‘We cannot admit any more,’ the prime minister said. He also called on the international community to move all 240,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad to another country. ‘It is because of them that we have the problems we have today,’ he said referring to the current armed rebellion.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: N’Djamena], February 15, 2008)
This is at once unspeakably callous and deeply disingenuous. The Dby regime knows full well that there is no “other country” to which the Darfur refugees can be moved; and it knows just as well that to deny entry to refugees from the latest fighting in Darfur is to consign these people to intolerable suffering and an unconscionable number of deaths.
The consequences of failing to engage forcefully with Chad in the context of the Darfur crisis, with a clear set of political, military, and humanitarian demands are all too clear. And they reveal the poverty of international—and especially French—efforts to deal with the complex claims of legitimate civil society opposition, the threats posed by military insurrection and a “hot war” with Sudan, and the overwhelmingly urgent needs of more than 500,000 refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Eastern Chad. French support for Dby during the recent Chadian rebel attack on N’Djamena is looking more and more like a resumption of the “Francafrique” policy of supporting African dictators on a wholly expedient basis.
At the same time that the Chadian government was officially denying access to Darfuri refugees, the UN High Commission for Refugees reported:
“Efforts by the UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] in eastern Chad to move newly-arrived Sudanese refugees from West Darfur to camps away from the volatile border were blocked by an unknown armed group, according to an agency spokeswoman. ‘This is deeply concerning and we are making every effort with the Chadian authorities to get these refugees moved quickly,’ UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said at a press briefing in Geneva on 15 February . Pagonis said 70 percent of the 8,000 new arrivals are women and children. The refugees are scattered near the border, east of the town of Guereda. They are ‘exhausted’ and ‘in very poor condition,’ she added. ‘Women report being raped. Children have been separated from their families.'”
“The UNHCR spokeswomen did not say whether the combatants who stopped aid workers from moving the new refugees were acting under orders of the government. ‘They gave no reason for their actions but it was clear the relocation would not take place,’ Pagonis said. She said the UNHCR representative in Chad was currently at the border, ‘trying to find a solution to this problem which is leaving the refugees extremely exposed and vulnerable.’ ‘The area is highly insecure with roaming armed groups posing a real threat to the refugees and aid workers,’ Pagonis said.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: N’Djamena], February 15, 2008)
Reuters reported from N’Djamena (February 15, 2008):
“UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said armed men stopped a group of families from boarding its trucks in the Birak border area [to which most Darfuri refugees fled] this week and other refugees due to be collected had moved away for fear of attacks by Sudanese militias. ‘We are very disturbed that in eastern Chad on Tuesday [February 13, 2008] our efforts to move traumatised, newly-arrived refugees from West Darfur away from the volatile border to camps was blocked by the presence of unknown armed elements,’ UNHCR said in a statement.”
Déby must be given a strong, credible, and immediate warning about the consequences for his international standing if he fails to facilitate both refugee accommodation and humanitarian movements. Moreover, Chadian authorities should expedite resumed movement of humanitarian supplies into Eastern Chad, as critical shortfalls are developing. Oxfam, for example, has again warned about the water crisis that is impending if fuel for pumping stations is not delivered soon. This threatens more than 100,000 civilians in refugee camps where the organization works. Addressing European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on February 18, 2008,
“Oxfam said supply routes to the camps [in Eastern Chad] had been closed and that only two weeks’ worth of fuel supplies for vital water plants was left. ‘We have all the elements for a huge humanitarian crisis rapidly developing in Chad,’ said Nick Roseveare, Oxfam’s director for West Africa. ‘Europe must act rapidly before things get worse.’ ‘Europe needs to call for a ceasefire in Chad to protect beleaguered civilians and increase diplomatic efforts to secure peace,’ he said in a statement before the Brussels meeting. Oxfam said camps in eastern Chad were unable to cope with a fresh wave of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Darfur.” (Reuters [dateline: Dakar], February 18, 2008)
With these developments as context, the belatedly deploying EUFOR must secure the humanitarian corridor between N’Djamena and Eastern Chad as rapidly as possible, and provide near term improvement in security in the most threatened areas along the Chad/Darfur border, especially north of el-Geneina and in the Goz Beida area to the south.
WILL UNAMID ARRIVE IN TIME?
West Darfur provides a grim portrait of the future of Darfur without expedited deployment of UNAMID—authorized by the UN Security Council over half a year ago, even as Resolution 1769 passed in the context of a clear framework of well-known military and civilian police personnel needs, as well as large-scale resource needs. And yet there is only the smallest measurable progress in providing security for civilians and humanitarians. Reuters and Associated Press have filed encouraging dispatches from several locations, including Mukjar, home to 23,000 displaced persons, Krinding Camp near el-Geneina, and Abu Shouk Camp near el-Fasher. Some individual commanders within UNAMID are taking initiative in a fashion that stands in sharp contrast to the inert and ineffectual African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS). There are more night patrols in some regions, more protection of women seeking firewood around some of the camps, and in places an aggressive posture vis–vis combatants, including Khartoum’s forces and the Janjaweed. The potential for much greater results is clear.
And yet the larger security pictured is still defined by comments recently issued by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and head of UN Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guhenno. Last month Guhenno declared in a briefing of the Security Council that “there has been ‘a grave deterioration of the security situation’ [in Darfur] since his last briefing to the council a month ago [December 2007]” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], January 9, 2008). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the same time of “‘the ongoing deteriorating situation in Darfur'” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], January 7, 2008).
Today the most important assessments come from UNAMID commanders on the ground in Darfur, especially the outspoken commander for West Darfur, Balla Keita of Senegal:
“The United Nations must deploy more troops quickly in west Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, even without their full equipment, or risk losing Darfuris’ trust, a senior UN commander said on Saturday [February 16, 2008]. The most important first step for the UN-funded peacekeeping mission is to give displaced Darfuris confidence that the troops will protect them, said Balla Keita, the UN-AU commander of West Darfur, the most volatile part of the region.” [ ]
“The new mission was set up after months of argument with the Sudanese government, which has said a majority of contingents must be African and rejected several other contributors. ‘If everybody is waiting to be fully equipped according to UN standards it’s going to take too long,’ Keita, a Senegalese, told Reuters. ‘The countries in the UN need to be more flexible on standards and just focus on sending troops to reinforce what is on the ground so we can … deliver something that the Darfuri people can see,’ he added.” (Reuters [dateline: el-Geneina], February 16, 2008)
As an especially telling example, one of many, Keita cited the commitment from his native Senegal:
“Senegal, which has pledged a further battalion to the Darfur force, needs Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) from South Africa which will take six months to arrive, [Keita] said.”
But battalions are urgently needed now, not six months from now, as Keita emphasizes:
“‘In 2-3 months if we don’t change the situation, maybe we will start seeing these people just having the same perception they have had with [the African Union mission in Darfur] and I think it’s not good,’ the Senegalese commander said. ‘The initial reputation of the mission—that is the main challenge.'” (Reuters [dateline: el-Geneina], February 16, 2008)
This emphasis on near-term results has also been emphasized by UN peacekeeping head Guhenno, and this more than anything accounts for Khartoum’s ongoing and resolute obstruction of UNAMID. The issues by which the regime works to delay UNAMID continually change, according to well-placed observers within the UN; but the net result is a rate of deployment that clearly threatens to undermine UNAMID’s potential to establish rapidly a reputation for effectiveness.
Khartoum is succeeding in this war of attrition on UNAMID deployment because China refuses to countenance strong action at the United Nations, and European countries refuse to impose penalties on Khartoum for its enormously destructive obduracy. (There is no effort, for example, to impose monetary sanctions on Khartoum, as the US has done with the dollar, even as denial of the Euro as a currency of second resort would be immediately and severely punishing of Khartoum’s gnocidaires.) A revealing recent instance of the regime’s wide-ranging obstructionism is Khartoum’s objection to the appointment of a British army officer as chief-of-staff to UNAMID Force Commander Martin Agwai of Nigeria:
“Sudan has raised objections to the appointment of a British army officer as chief-of-staff to the joint UN/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, a UN official said on Thursday [February 14, 2008]. The officer had been made military chief of staff to the force commander of the UN/AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) Martin Luther Agwai, who is Nigerian, a spokesman for the peacekeepers said. [ ] The British officer has not been named but is understood to be a well-respected senior officer with experience of operating in Africa.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 14, 2008)
Khartoum’s objection to the choice of chief-of-staff by the senior UNAMID commander on the ground in Darfur is consistent with Khartoum’s refusal to accept a UN-proposed roster of troop- and civilian police-contributing countries, insisting instead that contributions be exclusively from African countries or countries of its own selection (e.g., close allies China and Pakistan). Particularly critical to UNAMID deployment are a Thai battalion and special forces units from Nepal; the latter in particular would expand the reach of regular UNAMID battalions that must now operate only within a secure area to which ground reinforcements can quickly deploy in the event of armed conflict. Khartoum refuses to accept either country’s force and has already succeeded in forcing a critical Norwegian/Swedish engineering battalion to withdraw its offer to deploy to Darfur, leaving a gaping hole in engineering capacity and specialization on the ground.
Khartoum’s motives in attacking north from el-Geneina are ostensibly to clear the area of rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which in December 2007-January 2008 had taken the towns that have borne the brunt of the current campaign. The rebels were in many ways irresponsible in taking towns they could not hold, and abandoning them as a military response began, leaving civilians to bear the full brunt of Khartoum’s vengeful wrath. Earlier JEM threats to seize el-Geneina were particularly provocative and irresponsible (such seizure would have produced an overnight halt in humanitarian operations for much of West Darfur, certainly in the el-Geneina area).
But such actions and threats can in no way excuse Khartoum’s massive, indiscriminate attack on civilians, and targets known to have only civilian populations. These attacks, in the absence of resisting combatants, are nothing less than deliberate, ethnically-targeted destruction of the non-Arab people who have been, nearly exclusively, the victims of the onslaught. The same will be true as Khartoum’s campaign proceeds into the Jebel Moun area, where 20,000 civilians have fled to or live. Within this mountainous region (a JEM stronghold) they are now exposed to unconstrained military assault.
Khartoum’s timing in this campaign has much to do with the impending deployment of EUFOR in Eastern Chad, with a base just across the border from el-Geneina—and with the possibility that international pressure may finally compel the regime to accept the expedited deployment that UNAMID commander for West Darfur Balla Keita has so urgently called for. The National Islamic Front leadership in Khartoum wishes to accomplish as much as possible of its genocidal business before facing the possibility of military action by truly capable forces.
But only the sense of impunity deriving from Beijing’s unstinting provision of diplomatic protection convinces Khartoum that it can act as it does without consequences. China disingenuously insists that it is helping on Darfur, going through the various motions of diplomatic activity and token contributions of humanitarian aid. It has, to its credit, also committed to providing some 300 engineers, though notably no soldiers or police. But China has provided no significant logistical support or substantial military equipment to UNAMID, even as Beijing continues to provide, without conditions, significant new amounts of armaments and advanced weapons to Khartoum. Much of this inevitably ends up in Darfur, despite a UN arms embargo on Darfur imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005).
Despite these patent facts, Beijing strenuously objects to those who point out the intolerable contradiction between China’s enabling role in Darfur and its hosting of the Summer 2008 Olympic Games. But the essential political and moral reality before the international community could not be clearer: Beijing is at once host to the premier event in international sports, even as it is complicit in the ultimate international crime. This summer’s Games seem destined be known as the “Genocide Olympics.”
For despite glib skepticism, genocide proceeds apace in Darfur. If now with different patterns, the means are too often terrifyingly familiar, as West Darfur forces us to see. Khartoum’s actions of the past two weeks make clear that in the absence of robust international action, in particular by China, we will move steadily closer to a course of irreversible and cataclysmic human destruction.