Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sudan’s Darfur is worse than ever

Saturday 22 October 2005.
Editorial, the Houston Chronicle

Oct 20, 2005 — Americans have been horrified over the past two and a half years at the brutality of Arab janjaweed militias of Darfur, Sudan, swooping in to burn villages and rape and kill the tribespeople, who are of African descent. More shocking still was the evidence - undeniable to all but ministry officials in the capital city of Khartoum - that government military soldiers and helicopters were participating in the raids.

The unchecked butchery, touched off in 2003 by anti-government uprisings by two black rebel groups against Sudan’s Arab government, has left tens of thousands of helpless villagers dead and turned another 2 million into refugees.

Recently, refugees began clearing out of camps and returning to their land to plant crops in the hopes that African Union peacekeepers, a negotiated cease-fire and ongoing peace talks in the Nigerian capital of Abuja would return this desert region in western Sudan to some semblance of normalcy. The razing of villages had subsided, though cynics contended it was because hundreds already had been destroyed.

The fact of the matter, according to accounts this week in the New York Times and elsewhere, is that the situation indeed has changed. It has grown worse.

In a bizarre twist, eyewitnesses last month saw janjaweed militiamen effectively turn on their government supporters, according to Times reporter Marc Lacey. The janjaweed surrounded a police station, assaulted the police chief and released a number of jailed janjaweed fighters.

It would be a delicious example of poetic justice if the breakdown in the janjaweed/government coalition meant improved security for innocent villagers. Rather, life in Darfur is more chaotic and violent than ever.

Not only have janjaweed fighters turned on their government sponsors in some instances, but the number of rebel groups has grown and now they have begun launching attacks on each other. There are reports that fighters are streaming over the border from Chad to join the conflict. And janjaweed militia again are attacking villagers, who, again, are pouring by the thousands back into refugee camps.

Meanwhile, African Union peacekeeping troops, pitifully few for the scale of this complex conflict, have been ambushed by rebels fighting the Sudanese government. On Oct. 9, 38 African Union soldiers were abducted by one rebel group and rescued after a pitched battle with another.

The escalating violence has hindered United Nations humanitarian efforts to provide displaced Sudanese with food and medical care.

These events are a grim reminder that the problems in Darfur are far from solved. The world must not divert its attention.

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