Darfur is about Muslim on Muslim violence so it doesn’t naturally fit our niche of covering news about Christian persecution. We cover Darfur from time to time because it reveals the viciousness of the Khartoum regime. Our contacts in Sudan warn us repeatedly to sound the alarm that the thugs in Khartoum will not hold to a peace agreement without a gun to their head.
No way out
For the full story, go to World Magazine
Three years and 300,000 deaths later, the world seems no closer to a solution in Sudan . Havent the people of Darfur already suffered enough? | Jamie Dean
For many residents of Um Tagouk, along with millions more from the Darfur region, vicious attacks are a brutal reality they’ve already faced. Three years of bloody civil war have escalated into a calamity the United Nations calls the world’s worst refugee crisis. The Bush administration calls it genocide. Since 2003, at least 300,000 Sudanese have died from war-related violence, starvation, or disease. At least 3 million more have lost their homes and livelihoods, leaving scores on the brink of starvation.
This month the severe suffering deepened: Citing a lack of funds, the UN World Food Program (WFP) began cutting in half its already-minimal food rations for nearly 3 million Sudanese living in Darfur’s impoverished displacement camps. Even before the cut, many of the displaced showed early signs of severe malnutrition: orange hair and wasting.
While some in the camps manage to supplement their rations with food from other sources, many depend solely on WFP for their nutrition. “This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made,” said program chief James Morris. “Haven’t the people of Darfur already suffered enough?”
The war-related suffering in Darfur began three years ago when Sudan ‘s Islamic government, based in Khartoum , launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Arabs in the west. Government-backed Arab militias, called the janjaweed, razed villages, killed residents, raped women, and plundered livestock. A handful of rebel groups fought back, and the ensuing war has left Darfur one of the most dangerous and miserable places in the world.
Talks between warring factions, along with promises of cease-fires, have borne little fruit in the past, but the international community hung its hopes on a new round of peace talks that began earlier this month in Nigeria . The negotiations quickly stalled, and the 53-nation African Union, which has been moderating these and other formal talks for two years, extended the deadline for reaching an agreement.
As talks degenerated, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for the United States to “shake the trees” and press the two sides for an agreement. Ms. Rice dispatched her deputy, Robert Zoellick, to Nigeria to stimulate progress. Mr. Zoellick, the Bush administration’s point man on Sudan policy, met individually with rebel and Sudanese leaders, laboring to construct a new agreement that would appease both sides.
The high-level involvement from the United States is one part of a chorus of international attention recently directed toward the crisis in Darfur . Thousands rallied on the Mall in Washington , D.C. , in late April to ask the Bush administration to do more to help end the conflict.
Ms. Rice said that the United States has been “one of the most active states” in working to resolve the fighting, but that it needs more help from the international community, particularly China and Russia . (Both China and Russia have business interests in Sudan , and have frequently defended its government.)
Some fear that even with a peace agreement, enforcing peace in the war-ravaged region will prove a major challenge. The rebel groups are “basically being asked to trust the Sudanese government,” Smith College professor and Sudan expert Eric Reeves told WORLD, “but they’ve already seen how untrustworthy the government is.”
While world leaders grasp at political straws, millions of Sudanese grasp for their lives in camps and villages in Darfur . Nongovernmental and faith-based organizations work in what they say are the grimmest conditions they’ve faced to provide food, water sources, sanitation, and health care for the population. World Relief, a Baltimore-based Christian relief organization, has a staff of 50 working in three areas in Darfur , including the Um Tagouk village.
Bandits frequently attack supply convoys and target sites with humanitarian efforts, and Mr. Smith says the security situation “has definitely deteriorated” in recent months. Some humanitarian agencies have shut down sites in Darfur over safety concerns, and many areas of the region remain inaccessible to aid workers.
While the world appropriately turns its attention to Darfur , significant conflicts in other parts of the country go unnoticed, according to Mr. Reeves. He says the Sudanese government is flagrantly violating the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2004 in southern Sudan . The agreement was designed to end government oppression in southern Sudan and to give the impoverished region a share of the country’s substantial oil wealth.
Rebecca Garang, Sudan’s minister of transportation and the widow of John Garang, the former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, told WORLD earlier this year that the government wasn’t meeting the CPA’s terms: “We were supposed to get $1.5 billion dollars from oil so far, but as of now we’ve received $350 million . . . that’s barely enough to fund our army.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this month named Sudan as a country of particular concern in its annual report outlining religious and human-rights abuses around the world. The commission highlighted the government’s violations of the CPA and its systematic persecution of Christians and other non-Muslims: “In prisons and vagrant camps, non-Muslims are pressured to convert to Islam. Apostasy is legally punishable by death. Permission to build churches is routinely denied.”
International attention to the conflict in the western region of Darfur serves as a convenient distraction from injustices in the south and elsewhere, says Mr. Reeves: “It seems that the international community can’t walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to southern and western Sudan .”
The trouble in Darfur has spilled outside Sudan ‘s borders as well. Over the last three years, some 200,000 desperate Sudanese have slipped over their country’s western border into neighboring Chad , seeking a haven from the deplorable conditions in Darfur . Nearly 18,000 have settled in Goz Amir, one of a dozen UN refugee camps near the border.
Early this month while Darfur’s warring factions slogged away over a peace agreement, a group of 150 armed men swooped into a village just outside the Goz Amir camp in Chad , killing four, wounding five, and looting 1,000 head of cattle. Stunned locals identified the murderers as members of janjaweed, the vicious militia backed by the Sudanese government.
The incident was the latest in a string of violent acts in or near refugee camps in Chad . The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that around 4,700 refugees were abducted from Chadian camps in March. Witnesses identified the kidnappers as either Chadian or Sudanese rebels, likely stealing men to fight for their armies. Humanitarian agencies worry that the rebel activity will make Chadian camps further targets for the janjaweed.
If refugees in Chad ‘s camps survive the violence, they will have to face the imminent threat of disease and starvation. CNN reported that there are less than 300 doctors for a population of over 9 million in Chad , and that children are dying of treatable conditions, such as diarrhea and malnutrition.
As the fires of crisis continue to burn in Sudan and Chad, USCIRF warned that the world may need to soon look to yet another nation entangled with Sudan: “At least some elements in the Sudanese military or security services that remain in the South may be aiding the Lord’s Resistance Army (see sidebar below), a Ugandan rebel group notorious for its brutal human-rights abuses.”