For all the attention Darfur has received and for all the humanitarian assistance that it has been provided, innocent civilians are once again being killed as part of a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign by the Khartoum regime. Poised to retain power in next month’s thoroughly compromised national elections, this regime will continue its 20-year history of civilian destruction throughout Sudan until the world gets serious about pressuring it to stop.
The assaults are mainly in the mountainous region of Jebel Marra, where genocidal violence first exploded eight years ago. There is a ghastly familiarity to Khartoum’s assault on the region, including deployment of combat aircraft as well as Janjaweed militia forces. Many reports confirm the brutal nature of attacks on civilians, chiefly those from the Fur tribe— the largest in Darfur and the primary target of Khartoum’s counterinsurgency war.
Although purportedly directed against the increasingly fragmented Sudan Liberation Army faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur, the widespread attacks are clearly bent on razing entire villages and pillaging whatever has survived at this point in the war. A way of life is being destroyed.
Estimates of civilian casualties exceed 400. The French medical aid organization Medecins du Monde estimates that 100,000 civilians have been displaced by recent violence, which has compelled the organization to evacuate its personnel. A vast population is now left without humanitarian assistance, becoming more vulnerable each day.
The assault on Jebel Marra, long a rebel stronghold, occurs even as the international community congratulates the Khartoum regime for signing a peace agreement with the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement. This congratulation comes despite deep suspicion of the group by Darfuri civil society, which was excluded from the peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
Khalil Ibrahim, the movement’s leader, has an ugly role in Sudan’s recent history. He was an eager member of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front in the 1990s, embraced its radical Islamism, and engaged in military campaigns in southern Sudan as part of the paramilitary Popular Defense Force. These campaigns during Sudan’s North-South civil war included civilian massacres, rapes, and human enslavement.
Even so, Scott Gration, the US special envoy to Sudan, declared that the Feb. 23 agreement between Khartoum and the Justice and Equality Movement marks “an unprecedented opportunity for a significant reduction in violence in Darfur.” Other international actors have been more restrained, but nonetheless enthusiastic. Yet the provisional framework agreement bears all the hallmarks of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement reached in Abuja in 2006.
That agreement, also signed by only one rebel faction, worked to splinter Darfur’s rebel groups, failed to include Darfuri civil society, and imposed no obligations on Khartoum. It serves as an example of how not to conduct peace negotiations for Darfur, a lesson clearly not learned by those in Doha.
The peace agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement offers only a vague nod to the staggering problems confronting three million Darfuris who have been displaced. It is little more than a promise of further negotiations between the movement and the regime.
Although the agreement does contain announcement of a ceasefire, Khartoum sees this as exclusively with the Justice and Equality Movement. Thus intra-factional fighting within the Sudan Liberation Army became an opportunity for Khartoum’s conquest of a region that had long been impregnable. Confident that the Justice and Equality Movement — militarily the most powerful of the rebel movements — had been neutralized, the regime accelerated its campaign, and has received no rebuke from the international community.
Meanwhile, ethnically-targeted civilian destruction continues in Darfur; international vows to end these atrocity crimes remain empty. President Obama — so forceful about Darfur during his campaign — has appointed an envoy who seems more interested in accommodating Khartoum than pressuring the regime to halt its military campaign. Without a fundamental shift in US policy, hundreds of thousands of Darfuri lives are at increased risk.
[Eric Reeves is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”]