ME and Ophelia

Sunday, July 25, 2004

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Help explain complexities of helping those suffering in Sudan

We fight on, says the demon of Darfur
July 25, 2004 by Rich Miniter, El Fasher, Darfur Sunday Times

IN THE desolate hills of North Darfur, scene of some of the most hideous atrocities in a campaign of mass rape, ethnic cleansing and murder on a scale that has prompted claims of genocide, this weekend’s international machinations to get United Nations resolutions passed and peace talks started meant nothing to Musa Khaber.

A tall, glowering man, Khaber is the leader of the Janjaweed militia in the north. That his men have lived up to the militia’s name — Arabic for “demon on horseback” — is not in doubt. These particular demons have burnt countless villages, hacked and shot thousands of men and boys and raped the women or driven them into the desert to die.

Yet Khaber, who was tracked to his lair by The Sunday Times on Friday after a gruelling journey by Land Rover and on foot, does not like the word Janjaweed. An interpreter warned that it should not be used in front of him. “You will make him angry,” he whispered, drawing a line across his neck.

What actually infuriated Khaber, as it turned out, was the mention of possible international intervention in Darfur under the auspices of the UN, or perhaps the British and American governments.

Khaber, his face masked by a turban arranged to cover all but his eyes and the crown of his head, glared menacingly, oblivious to two flies crawling on his eyelids.

“We will fight them,” he declared. “We hate them and we will attack the foreigners. We refuse to be like Iraq — surrendered, confused and occupied.”

As his bodyguards — hard men carrying AK-47s and G3 assault weapons — looked out from hillside vantage points in rocks above us and the desert below, Khaber formed his hand into the shape of a pistol to emphasise his point. “We will fight them, more than the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.”

The journey to Khaber had taken us through rough terrain in some ways reminiscent of Afghanistan, with its welter of tough, independent tribesmen, its Islamic extremism and its multitude of weapons.

From this combustible mixture at a point where black African peasants have clashed with nomadic African Arabs for centuries, a conflict exploded last year with a force that has only now shaken the international community into limited action.

Put simply, a revolt mounted largely by black Africans triggered a ferocious response from mainly Arab militias, allegedly backed by the government in Khartoum.

The picture on the ground is much more complex, but about 1.5m people have been displaced — nearly one-fifth of the population of Darfur. About 200,000 have fled into neighbouring Chad, while 1m have settled into one of 132 “internally displaced persons’ camps” spread over a region the size of France.

Perhaps 30,000 have been killed and starvation and disease threaten thousands more.

Aid is arriving but is in short supply; UN officials have acknowledged that this is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis but have been unable to contain it; and no consensus has emerged among African or western leaders on what to do.

The power in Darfur still rests largely with Khaber and a host of lesser men like him. To find him meant passing through a Sudanese army cordon around the dusty town of El Fasher. We drove for 40 miles over sandy savannah.

A steep wall of rock-strewn hills eventually blocked our path and we continued on foot. After hiking over hills more than 150ft high we were halted by the shouts of a gun-waving man in a white turban. He was a Janjaweed lookout.

We were told to wait. From the steep, lifeless hills we could see for miles and eventually a truck emerged in the distance. As the white dot grew, we realised that it was a pick-up truck with a number of armed men in the back. It stopped out of sight and about 20 minutes later we were given the signal to proceed into some stony ravines.

There, beside a scrub bush, I met Khaber, a dark black man who introduced himself as an Arab. Many members of the opposing groups in the conflict are physically virtually indistinguishable from one another and Khaber’s band is a mixture of men from Arab and African tribes. What they have in common is a taste for war and loot.

The Janjaweed leader claimed that despite reports of backing from Khartoum, his militia was allied to nobody. “We are not with the rebels, we are not with the government — we are in hell,” he said. “But we look for our due.”

Asked what he considered his due, he replied: “Development.” When I pointed out that the number of schools had tripled in Darfur in the past 10 years and there were three hospitals and one university where before there had been none, he was dismissive. “I am from Krniui village. They have built nothing in my village.”

I pressed Khaber on the allegations — long denied by Khartoum — that the Janjaweed are funded and controlled by the national government. He insisted it gave him no support.

“We fight all governments in Sudan,” he said. “We get nothing from the government.” He conceded only that he had some relatives in the local government who provided assistance from time to time.

The interview ended abruptly when a lookout sounded that the Sudanese army was approaching. Men with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machineguns climbed into crags, evidently preparing for a shootout.

Khaber stood up suddenly and ran to Dafalla Hajar, his number two. They argued rapidly in Arabic, but were clearly outnumbered. As the Janjaweed fled north, we retraced our steps hoping to avoid the army and arrest.

This rugged and remote region, divided into North, South and West Darfur, is the perfect environment for misery. Famine and disease are familiar. Most of the hardship is man-made, the product of competing ideologies and rival groups such as Khaber’s.

Sudan’s army now garrisons the cities, as do the police in blue camouflage uniforms.

While the government’s Popular Defence Force, a part-time body of territorials, patrols some of the hinterland, irregular army units and 80 Arab tribal militias rove the landscape on camel and horseback.

To them can be added the wandering nomads whose dirty white turbans, flowing robes and camel trains could be from a millennium ago, but for their AK-47s. Then there are gun- toting bandits who roam western Sudan and Chad, seeking women and booty.

Finally there is a constellation of armed groups loosely called the rebels. These include the professionally trained insurgents of the Justice and Equality Movement — backed by the now jailed former speaker of Sudan’s parliament, Hassan al-Turabi; the Sudan Liberation Army, believed to be supported by Eritrea; the Federal Democratic Movement, which specialises in murdering policemen; and the so-called “African” tribal militias, one of which calls itself Tora Bora in homage to Osama Bin Laden’s fighters in Afghanistan.

“Outside the major market towns,” said David Hoile, who works as a consultant to the government of Sudan and western companies, “men carry guns as casually as women in Chelmsford would carry handbags.”

Disarming these warring factions may be impossible. If Khartoum dispatches more troops to Darfur, it will be in violation of its ceasefire with the two main rebel groups.

Disarmament would in any case enrage the Janjaweed and the African and Arab tribal militias, who may turn their guns on aid workers and Sudanese soldiers alike, detonating any chance of relief efforts.

Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, nevertheless issued a decree on June 18 declaring that all groups will be disarmed and that those guilty of human rights abuses will be punished.

Khartoum’s ability to enforce its will is doubtful. Over the 196,404 square miles of Darfur there are only 15 paved roads. The rainy season will soon turn them into mires. Still, some progress is apparent.

At Nyala, in South Darfur, a judge opened the prison gates to reporters last week. Inside the British-built structure, 12 Janjaweed prisoners squatted in the sunlight. The judge explained that they had been convicted of crimes ranging from theft and rape to murder and sentenced to between three and 12 years’ “hard time”.

The governor of North Darfur, Mohammed Kupor, said there was now “a great campaign” by the army, police and intelligence services against the Janjaweed. For the past two weeks these combined forces have staked out water holes, searched with helicopters and even sent camel patrols into the mountains. During that fortnight, the governor said, 400 Janjaweed have been captured.

Yet nobody knows how many thousands are still at large, roaming freely to terrorise the inhabitants of Darfur.

The victims are not hard to find. Abu Shouk, six miles north of El Fasher, is one step away from hell. On hot plains at the edge of the Sahara, 43,000 people live behind a chain link fence guarded by Sudanese soldiers. It is more than 100F by late morning and to survive the heat, the inhabitants need eight litres of water per day. They often do not get it.

The story of one woman at the camp, Hawa Addella Mahmud, 28, is typical of many. Until a year ago she thought she had it all. Her husband was loving and she was pregnant with twins. Then, early in the morning, came the camel-riding Janjaweed. Her husband and neighbours were killed and she walked for 10 days. When she arrived at the camp, her twins were born dead.

At the Sayalabe camp near Nyala in the south, refugees told another story that sounded a lot like ethnic cleansing. On the afternoon of May 22, Janjaweed attacked their village on foot. As a helicopter hovered, more than a dozen gunmen sought out the Africans for murder while sparing the Arabs.

Another refugee, Suakan al-Taher, 17, who is now at a camp near Genina in the west, lost her husband in an attack on their village. All its 63 men were murdered, she said. She fled with her baby.

Last week she rearranged her blue veil to shield her daughter from the sun. Her thoughts were not of Janjaweed or rebel forces, but of survival. “We are suffering for (lack of) food,” she said. “We are cold at night and hot in the day.”

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Darfur's deep grievances defy all hopes for an easy solution
Sunday July 25, 2004 - The Observer:

The world is waking to the human disaster in Sudan. But, argues writer and world authority on the country, Alex de Waal, the crisis is far more complex than some claim - and cannot be resolved by a quick fix.

Darfur, the war-torn province in western Sudan where a terrible humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding, has yet more awful secrets to divulge.

In addition to 1.2 million displaced people living and dying in refugee camps in the region and across the border in neighbouring Chad, there are hundreds of thousands more struggling to survive in their homes in the vast areas held by the rebel movements fighting against the Khartoum government.

They are far from any TV cameras, and far from the comfort of aid agencies. They are surviving as their parents and grandparents did, through hardiness and skill.

They, not us, are the proven experts in surviving famine. Where a foreigner sees a wasteland of sand and mountain, a rural woman sees landscape replete with wild grasses, berries and roots.

The most ubiquitous of these is a berry known as mukheit, which grows on a small bush. It looks like a big pale pea, it's toxic and needs to be soaked in water for three days before it's edible, and even then it tastes sour. But it's nutritious, and it's in season now.

During the drought-famine of 1984-85, perhaps two million people survived on mukheit, often for months. It was a far bigger factor in survival than food aid, and it was common to see women foraging on the remotest hills, children strapped to their backs, gathering this unappetising but life-preserving crop. Then there's difra, a wild grass that grows across the desert-edge plateaux, which can be harvested in August, and up to 80 more species known to every grandmother.

Mukheit keeps adults alive, but it isn't enough for children. During the 1980s famine, infectious diseases and lack of weaning foods killed an estimated 75,000 children. As the world becomes aware of this as-yet-invisible disaster, aid agencies will demand access across the front lines. And those aid convoys will need an international protection force.

The Darfur war erupted early last year, when two armed movements - Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement - began a rebellion against a government in Khartoum that had neglected their region.

In response, the government mobilised, armed and directed a militia, known as Janjaweed ('rabble' or 'outlaws' in local dialect), using scorched earth, massacre and starvation as cheap counter-insurgency weapons. The UN has described Darfur as 'the world's worst humanitarian crisis'. On Friday, the US Congress described it as 'genocide'. The British government is considering sending in 5,000 troops.

Characterising the Darfur war as 'Arabs' versus 'Africans' obscures the reality. Darfur's Arabs are black, indigenous, African and Muslim - just like Darfur's non-Arabs, who hail from the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and a dozen smaller tribes.

Until recently, Darfurians used the term 'Arab' in its ancient sense of 'bedouin'. These Arabic-speaking nomads are distinct from the inheritors of the Arab culture of the Nile and the Fertile Crescent.

'Arabism' in Darfur is a political ideology, recently imported, after Colonel Gadaffi nurtured dreams of an 'Arab belt' across Africa, and recruited Chadian Arabs, Darfurians and west African Tuaregs to spearhead his invasion of Chad in the 1980s. He failed, but the legacy of arms, militia organisation and Arab supremacist ideology lives on.

Many Janjaweed hail from the Chadian Arab groups mobilised during those days. Most of Darfur's Arabs remain uninvolved in the conflict, but racist ideology appeals to many poor and frustrated young men.

Since 1987 there have been recurrent clashes between the Arab militias and village self-defence groups. Their roots were local conflicts over land and water, especially in the wake of droughts, made worse by the absence of an effective police force in the region for 20 years.

The last intertribal conference met in 1989, but its recommendations were never implemented. Year by year, law and order has broken down, and the government has done nothing but play a game of divide-and-rule, usually favouring the better-armed Arabs.

In response, the non-Arab groups (some of them bedouins too - there's a clan related to the Zaghawa that even has the name Bedeyaat) have mobilised, adopting the label 'African', which helps to gain solidarity with the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army, and is a ticket to sympathy in the West.

The Darfur conflict erupted just as protracted peace negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLA on an end to the 20-year-old war in southern Sudan entered their final stage. Some observers have speculated that the rebellion was launched because the SPLA won its concessions by dint of armed struggle, thereby encouraging other discontented Sudanese regions to try the same.

There's an element of truth in that, and a danger that the Beja of eastern Sudan will also re-ignite their dormant insurrection. But Darfur has long-standing grievances. Even more than southern Sudan, the province has been neglected. It has the fewest schools and hospitals in the country. Promises of development came to nothing.

Darfurian radicals have long tried to start a liberation war. In 1991, the SPLA sent an armed force to Darfur to foment resistance: it failed, and an entire cadre of leftist leadership was arrested or neutralised as a result. The young SLA leaders have emerged from the shadow of this debacle.

Meanwhile, the Islamic government tried to neutralise complaints of neglect by playing the religion card. Darfur's Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes are well-known for their Muslim piety, and were attracted by the idea of being enfranchised through their Muslim faith. But this proved another hollow promise, and when the Sudanese Islamist movement split four years ago, most Darfurian Islamists went into opposition, some of them forming the JEM.

There is no quick fix in Darfur. But after the first round of mediation by the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a week ago, the elements of a settlement are coming into focus. The first of these is removing obstacles to relief operations. The second is enforcing the ceasefire, agreed by the parties in the Chadian capital of Ndjamena in April, but flouted - far more egregiously by the government and Janjaweed. For hungry villagers, the ceasefire is a survival issue, as their skill at harvesting wild foods has no value if they are confined to camps by fear of rape, mutilation or murder.

The African Union - headed by its energetic leader, the, former Malian President Alpha Konare - has put 24 ceasefire monitors on the ground so far to oversee the Ndjamena agreement. Three hundred African troops are also on their way, to ensure that the monitors can move in safety.

Providing security to civilians will need a far larger and more robust force. Even before the insurrection, Darfur was a province in arms. Every village or nomadic clan possessed automatic weapons - a necessity given that there has been no effective police force there for the past 20 years.

Last month, President Omer al-Bashir promised to disarm the Janjaweed. In doing so, he has put himself in a corner. There's overwhelming evidence, circumstantial and documentary, that Khartoum supplied the militia with arms, logistics and air support. But it doesn't follow that it can so easily rein them in. Darfur cannot be disarmed by force.

The principal Janjaweed camps can be identified and the militiamen cantonised there. This demands a tough surveillance regime, overseen by international forces. But the armed Bedouin cannot be encamped: they rely on their herds for livelihood and hence need to move, and they are too numerous and scattered to disarm. In fact, 'disarmament' is a misnomer. What will work is community-based regulation of armaments, gradually squeezing out bandits and criminals.

What to do with the Chadian Arabs will be one tricky issue. Another will be the fact that all Darfurians - Arab and non-Arab alike - profoundly distrust a government in Khartoum that has brought them nothing but trouble. Arms control can be made to work only when the scaffolding of a provincial administration and political settlement is in place.

Another issue is human rights: investigating claims of genocide and who's responsible. This issue is best parked with an international commission - perhaps a special investigator from the International Criminal Court.

A political solution can be framed as these immediate issues are tackled. At the moment the sides are far apart, their public language one of mutual recrimination.

In theory, a settlement of Darfur's provincial issues should not be too difficult. The rebels - who drop their simplistic 'African' versus 'Arab' terminology as soon as they get into details - have no desire to purge Darfur of its indigenous black Arabs.

They do not seek self-determination or separation. Their demands, for equitable development, land rights, schools and clinics, and local democracy are perfectly reasonable. Formulae for provincial autonomy are also negotiable.

The national issues are more difficult. Settling Darfur's grievances will mean revisiting many of the Naivasha formulae, which were drafted on a simplified north-south dichotomy. For example, senior government jobs have been divided between the ruling Congress Party and the SPLA: who is going to make concessions to allow Darfur its fair share?

Nonetheless, the Darfur process can be speeded up by implementing the Naivasha agreement and bringing SPLA leader John Garang to Khartoum as vice president. Garang aspires to represent a coalition of all Sudan's non-Arab peoples, including Darfurians, and it will be politically impossible for him to endorse a war in Darfur.

The African Union, with UN support, is applying lessons learned from the Naivasha negotiation. If this is to work, the US, Britain and the EU will need to use their leverage in support of the AU formula. The next meeting is scheduled for a month's time.

The immediate life and death needs of Darfur's people cannot wait for these negotiations to mature. A British brigade could make a formidable difference to the situation. It could escort aid supplies into rebel-held areas, and provide aerial surveillance, logistics and back-up to ceasefire monitoring, helping to give Darfurian villagers the confidence to return to their homes and pick up their lives.

Alex de Waal is director of Justice Africa (London). An updated version of his book, Famine that Kills: Darfur, Sudan, 1984-5, is published by Oxford University Press this autumn.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 7/25/2004
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