Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Can the Weak Protect the Weak?

During my first trip to Darfur in April 2005, I visited three Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps, ZamZam, Tuwela and Abu-Shuko. On Sept. 24 I returned to Abu-Shuko. The situation hasn't changed much. Living condition have not improved, and there has only been a slight increase in food distribution. The population has increased from 230,000 to 270,000 IDPs due to the insecurity around Al-Fasher. This is especially true in the Tuwela camp, where fighting has occurred between rebels SLA/M and government forces.

I did not travel to Tuwela this time, because of the military activities around Tuwela camps. Most of the IDPs are fleeing the Tuwela region to nearby towns.

Due to insecurity and logistical problems there are parts of Darfur that NGOs and the UNHCR cannot reach. The situation around Jebel Al-Mara is particularly bad and the IDPs there cannot be reached by outside agencies. Ironically, even with the worsening situation, the IDPs in Abu-Shuko may be better off than those who are in Jebel Al-Mara.

The increasing violence is keeping IDPs from returning home and making them completely dependant on foreign aid. Those who do try to return to their villages to tend to crops are attacked and killed or driven back to the camps.

Despite the fact that Abu-Shuko is supposed to be under the control of African Union forces (whose mandate prevents them from carrying weapons) there were no AU troops on the ground when I visited this camp.

In a terrifying example of foxes guarding the chicken coop, the Sudanese soldiers who have, in many well-documented cases, openly supported the atrocities committed by the janjaweed control the camp's main entrance.[...]

Sept 24, 2005, a bus traveling from Al-Fasher, via Zam Zam, to Nyiala City was attacked. One person was killed and seven other were injured. I went to the hospital to witness the wounded for myself. This incident could have been prevented if the AU troops had been armed. All AU troops in Darfur are without guns, and they patrol the areas unarmed. "It is ridicules to patrol without guns," an Egyptian police officer told me.

If this insecurity continues, the international community and NGOs will not be able to provide the assistance that is so desperately needed by hundreds of thousands of people in the Darfur region. This is a direct result of the extremely weak mandate of the AU, the continual refusal by African leaders to request international support from the international community, and the absence of intervention by the UN and NATO. [...]

Without a change in the AU mandate, the IDPs will not feel safe and the Janjaweed will continue to attack, rape and kill civilians as long as the AU soldiers remain unarmed. The mandate to fight back, arrest and detain must be applied as soon as possible in order to save lives of innocent men, women and children in the Darfur region.

In addition, the living conditions of the AU troops on the ground are very poor: there are no sports facilities; the stress level is very high; there is a lack of clinical psychologists; no air conditioning; salaries are not paid on time; and the food is low in required nutrients. All these factors will not assist AU troops in carrying out duties in an effective and timely manner.

Two AU soldiers died of HIV/AIDS, so there is also need for medical check ups for AU soldiers before their deployment to Darfur. The only two countries that give HIV/AIDS tests to their troops are South Africa and Canada. (Currently, there are two Canadian logistical officers in Darfur assisting the AU). The danger is that HIV/AIDS will spread in Darfur because of the contact with AU troops, and could lead to a serious health problem.

Justin Laku
Founder of the group Canadian Friends of Sudan
Ottawa, ON.

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