Sunday, September 10, 2006

Darfur: Deafening Silence in Arab World and Elsewhere

Burned shops in an abandoned village between Geneina and Sisi, Darfur, West Sudan: Government of Sudan military forces and its Arab militias collectively known as Jingaweit, have systematically burned and looted towns and villages of tribal groups who the Sudanese government claims are supporting opposition forces.

The tourist journalists have long departed Lebanon but there's no rush to head to Darfur, West Sudan where according to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday, "the conditions...have become so desperate...and the numbers of people suffering or being killed continued to grow."

Deafening silence in the Arab World, is matched by indifference in the rest of the world, to an estimated quarter of a million dead and another 2.5 million people in squalid camps.

We hear of angry Muslims who have been radicalised by what has been happening in Palestine and Iraq but where is the anger when an Arab-dominated Islamic government launches a campaign of genocide against a primarily black African Muslim people?

Where is the anger among people who appear to only get a rush of blood to the head when there's an American angle to an issue?

A United Nations Security Council resolution authorized a force of more than 22,000 troops and police officers to take over peacekeeping duties in Sudan from the African Union. But Sudan has refused to allow the new force to deploy, and it says the African Union must leave by the end of this month, when its mandate ends, if it cannot work on its own.

New York Times reporter Lydia Polgreen, who is no tourist journalist and has reported several times from Sudan, writes: Tawila and the sprawling, makeshift camp of displaced people at its edge sit astride a deadly fault line in Darfur. This small but strategic town has been the front line of some of the deadliest battles in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and sent 2.5 million fleeing.

It is a place where a grim struggle between the government and its Arab allies, and non-Arab rebel factions, has given way to a fractured struggle that pits non-Arab tribes against one another, fanning centuries-old rivalries and setting the scene for a bloodbath of score-settling vengeance should the African Union soldiers withdraw, as demanded, at the end of this month.

Tawila is an apocalyptic postcard from the next and perhaps the grimmest chapter in Darfur’s agony, a preview of the coming cataclysm in the conflict the United Nations has called the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis.

Thousands of people in this squalid camp fear that their annihilation will be the final chapter in this brutal battle over land, identity, resources and power, which the Bush administration and many others have called genocide.

“We beg the international community, somebody, come and save us,” Sheik Ali said. “We have no means to protect ourselves. The only thing we can do is run and hide in the mountains and caves. We will all die.”

United Nations

The leadership of the Sudanese Government may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the people of Darfur if they allow the African Union (AU) mission there to leave and then refuse access to United Nations peacekeepers, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan reiterated his message to Khartoum that the planned force of blue helmets in Darfur “is not coming in as an invading force, but basically to help them protect the people.”

On 31 August the Security Council voted to deploy a UN force of more than 17,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, an impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank that has been beset by brutal violence and massive displacement since 2003.

The Council resolution “invites the consent” of Khartoum, but the Sudanese Government has said on repeated occasions that it is opposed to the UN taking over the work of the AU operation, known by the acronym AMIS, which is due to end later this year.

The Secretary-General’s warning comes ahead of a high-level Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss the situation inside Darfur, which he will attend. Representatives of the Sudanese Government, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have been invited to participate.

Mr. Annan said the conditions inside Darfur have become so desperate that if there is no AU or UN presence and the numbers of people suffering or being killed continued to grow, then the Sudanese “are placing themselves in a situation where the leadership may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the population in Darfur.”

Scores of thousands of people are thought to have been killed amid fighting between rebel groups, Government forces and allied militias in Darfur, and at least two million others are estimated to have had to flee their homes.