ME and Ophelia

Sunday, July 18, 2004

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While rains put Darfur in dire need

Following on from the news in the next post above, a report from China News on July 15 says it has information out of Khartoum that the government of Sudan (GoS) has started bringing "home" up to 34,000 refugees from Darfur. Apparently, the returnees "let out a sigh of relief, expressing a keen desire to go home", Sudanese sources were quoted as saying.

The report may be a rumour or propaganda. But if it is true, I imagine the Sudan's government forces are driving the refugees back into Darfur at gunpoint; or it is planting stooges and staging the "flocking of refugees to Darfur" to make themselves look like they are protecting their people; or it knows that Libya has opened up its border to provide access for humanitarian assistance into Darfur and is moving people there to keep an eye on what is coming through from Libya.

Some of the stories that come out of Sudan make the movies "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Zulu" look like a picnic. It would not be far fetched to imagine that GoS forces have driven themselves into Darfur and dressed up as refugees to see what's coming in from Libya.

If they are not already there in Sudan, the 270 AU-led armed soldiers (funded and supported by the EU) are due to arrive any time before July 30. The GoS, under intense international pressure to provide unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and protect the Sudanese refugees, is desperately trying to avoid taking up the international community's offer of help (stipulated by Colin Powell and Kofi Annan at their recent meetings with Sudan's President Bashir in Khartoum) by July 30.

I've not read any reports where a single refugee is quoted as saying they would return to Darfur without the protection of UN forces.

The GoS tried to pull off a stunt when Colin Powell and Kofi Annan recently visited a refugee camp in Darfur. Colin Powell was not surprised. Upon his arrival at the camp, he asked "where are all the people?" Apparently, the night before, GoS forces had trucked away hundreds of refugees from the camp. Some of the refugees that Powell saw were overweight and wore clean leather shoes.

Who'd believe that surviving victims of Darfur would willingly flock "home" to Darfur with the assistance of GoS forces - unless at gunpoint? I've seen reports where refugees are quoted as saying they would never return to Darfur without the security of white soldiers.

If it is true that tens of thousands of refugees are being driven back to Darfur, how are they to receive food and water? They have nothing. Nothing to farm or harvest, and no seeds to plant or livestock to tend. Villages have been burnt to the ground and drinking wells have been stuffed with dead animals to poison the water. The monsoons have started and within the next two weeks large areas will be completely cut off by flooding and mud, creating all sorts of logistical problems, illness and disease.

As noted above, the rains are putting Darfur in dire need and the World Food Programme is planning a first airdrop of 1,400 tons of food next week into areas of Darfur cut off by rainfall.

Who will be there to received and distribute the food when it lands? GoS forces? Janjaweed? Aid workers? Or refugees?

More later, when I find something. In the meantime, if any reader has more information on above story, please email me and I'll post an update.
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July 15, Patrick Hall writes "another broken promise".

July 1: Rebecca Lesses writes: "Once again, the Sudanese government is trying to pretend that nothing is happening in Darfur. When Kofi Annan went to visit a refugee camp, Sudan Camp Is Moved Before U.N. Visit. (note to self to find copy of this report as Rebecca's link to Marc Lacey's July 2, 2004, report in NYT has slipped into archive).

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 7/18/2004
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