Nov 10, 2005 (SHEK EN NIL, western Sudan) — A senior U.S. envoy and a Darfur government official clashed Thursday during a trip with African Union military observers to southern Darfur.
- US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had listened to African Union military observers describe a recent outbreak of violence that had turned southern Darfur’s Shek en Nil into a ghost village of burned out homes, and heard local leaders profess their commitment to peace.
Regional commissioner Sadiek Abdel Nabi followed as Zoellick stepped away for what was to have been a private additional AU briefing in the remnants of a village home. An angry Zoellick ordered Nabi out. When Nabi refused, Zoellick said he would protest to President Omar el-Bashir.
"I am Bashir here!" Nabi, who had previously relied on an Arabic translator, shouted three times in English, standing inches (centimeters) from Zoellick.
An AU officer persuaded Nabi to back off, and Zoellick heard details of three attacks on Shek en Nil in late September — all violations of a tattered cease-fire.
In the first attack, Sudan Liberation Movement rebels took the area. Days later, government troops retook it and were in control when so-called Janjaweed militiamen swept in for the third attack on Shek en Nil, burning and looting the homes of civilians and raping women, according to AU observers.
Nabi and other local officials did not address the implication that the army and the Janjaweed had colluded. The government has repeatedly denied accusations it unleashed the ethnic Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed as a tactic in the war.
After decades of clashes over land and water in Darfur that often pitted the region’s ethnic Arab tribes against its ethnic African tribes, conflict erupted on a wider scale in February 2003. Then, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the other major rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, took up arms against the Sudanese government amid accusations of repression and unfair distribution of wealth.
The United Nations estimates that 180,000 people have died, mainly through famine and disease. No firm figures exist on the number killed in fighting. Several million more have either fled into neighboring Chad or been displaced inside Sudan.
Zoellick later Thursday visited one of the camps for the displaced, where rape and other violence against women is common. The Janjaweed sometimes attack the camps.
The presence of smaller, armed groups and a split within the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement has made the situation even more volatile.
Last month, two Nigerian peacekeepers were killed in a gunfight with armed men who were robbing an African Union civilian contractor. Dozens of AU military observers and other staff were later abducted by insurgents.
The U.N. evacuated its staff from West Darfur some two weeks ago, stopped the delivery of humanitarian supplies by road and told workers to use helicopters to supply the camps.
Some 7,000 African Union peacekeepers deployed to stabilize Darfur have been unable to stem the spike in violence, because they do not have enough troops, proper military hardware and means for rapid movement in the region the size of France, Jan Pronk, the special U.N. envoy to Sudan, said after meeting with Zoellick Wednesday in Khartoum.
There are also reports that the peacekeepers are running short of ammunition, Zoellick said late Wednesday.
The African Union has repeatedly asked for more money and logistical support from the West for its Darfur operations.
New York-based Refugees International, which provides humanitarian assistance and protection to displaced persons around the world, said donor governments have failed to provide adequate support for the AU, while the Sudanese government places "innumerable obstacles in its path."
"With the recent upsurge in violence over the past two months, the African Union’s shortcomings have come into full focus," Refugees International said in a report released Wednesday, adding that the United Nations must eventually assume responsibility for security in Darfur.
The British charity Oxfam said Wednesday that the AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur needed help from the international community.