Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 6 April 2004

Khartoum continues campaigns of human destruction in southern Sudan and Darfur

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By Eric Reeves

April 6, 2004 — Authoritative reports from the Naivasha talks in Kenya, including
dispatches from Reuters and Agence France-Presse, suggest that US
pressure---exerted with a deadline defined by the rapid approach of a
Presidential determination per the requirements of the Sudan Peace
Act---has succeeded in ending Khartoum’s months of stalling on
conclusion of a peace agreement. Given the extremely precarious nature
of these negotiations, and continual shifts in Khartoum’s diplomatic
willingness to engage, nothing can be certain; outstanding issues
remain. But most of the difficult issues around power-sharing and the
three contested areas have now been resolved, and the odds have shifted
significantly in favor of the signing of an agreement.

This, of course, marks only the beginning of the real work in making a
just and sustainable peace in Sudan. A peace agreement is
indispensable, but does nothing in and of itself; it merely creates the
opportunity for peace actually to be made. It will require
extraordinary work, a very substantial commitment of resources---and
immediate efforts to secure the terms of the peace agreement and to
build confidence on both sides.

Such confidence, however, is impossible to imagine while Khartoum
continues its campaigns of human destruction in Darfur and in the
Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province in southern Sudan (and continues
to violate other terms of the October 15, 2002 Cessation of Hostilities
Agreement and the February 4, 2003 "Addendum" to this Cessation of
Hostilities Agreement).

[1] A number of recent human rights reports, editorials, published
analyses, and wire dispatches suggest that the world is now finally
awakening to the horrors of Khartoum’s genocidal war in Darfur. Even
so, we are still struggling to grasp the immensity of the
catastrophe---in terms of human displacement, the physical destruction
of villages, water systems, and agricultural capacity, and the number of
those who have already perished or seem destined to perish. But on this
latter issue, consensus seems to be crystallizing around the figure of
over 30,000 first used by Sudan Focal Point, South Africa ("A View of
Sudan from Africa: Monthly Briefing," January 2004).

But as horrific as this number is, implying a casualty rate of 1,000
people per week in the recent months of the conflict, it may well be a
vast understatement. Here we need to hear carefully the statement from
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), reported today
by Reuters:

"’The scale of the violence is indescribable,’ said Coralie Lechelle,
an emergency coordinator with medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres,
who has just returned from four months in Darfur. ’In every village
they’re talking about hundreds of people killed.’" (Reuters, April 6,
2004)

And we know, from numerous sources, that many hundreds of villages have
been reported destroyed, For example, Amnesty International, in its
comprehensive report of February 3, 2004 ("Darfur: Too Many People
Killed for No Reason"), reports in just one paragraph of its lengthy
account:

"Scores of civilians fled to Kabkabiya town between June and August
2003. Reports alleged that 300 villages had been attacked or burnt to
the ground in the area. Many displaced were reportedly living in the
open or in the local school in Kabkabiya, having very little or no
access to humanitarian aid. For instance, hundreds had fled after an
attack on Shoba, a Fur village situated 7 km south of Kabkabiya on 25
July, by armed militia wearing government army uniforms, in which at
least 51 Shoba villagers, including many elders, were killed." (page
35)

MSF also declares in its own press release, "from what we could see,
there are heavy massacres and violence in the region." (Doctors Without
Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, "We Could See Villages Burning Along
the Road," March 2004;
www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/voices/sudan_03-2004.shtm)

MSF has so far proved the most intrepid and resilient humanitarian
organization operating in Darfur; their reporting must be regarded as
especially authoritative. This shocking description of casualties---"In
every village they’re talking about hundreds of people killed"---must
force very careful consideration of how vast human destruction has
already become.

Just as shocking is the horrific prospective view offered by Roger
Winter of the US Agency for International Development:

"Aside from the death, destruction, and long-term hostility that the
conflict has already caused, our humanitarian experts believe that as
many as 100,000 may die over the coming months in Darfur, even if a
ceasefire is achieved this week. The toll will rise proportionate to any
delays." (Remarks from Roger Winter, USAID Assistant Administrator for
the Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau;
Inter-Sudanese Conflict Meeting, N’Djamena (Chad), March 31, 2004)

But the chances for any near-term humanitarian cease-fire seem as of
this writing extremely remote. Khartoum refuses to meet directly with
the political leadership of the two Darfur insurgency groups at the
present "negotiations" in N’djamena (Chad); Khartoum "refuses to allow
international observers to attend the negotiations" (Agence
France-Presse, April 6, 2004), even as this is the fundamental demand of
the insurgency groups; Khartoum has also ordered the weak Chad
government of Idris Deby to deny entry visas to political leaders from
one of the two groups; and the regime is so far unwilling to move beyond
procedural issues: it is simply "talking about talking" in N’Djamena, as
one informed participant described the current state of affairs.

In short, though we cannot be sure what the present total of casualties
is in Darfur, we can be certain that it is or will be many, many tens of
thousands. Indeed, it is difficult to see how, from all available
evidence (including, increasingly, aerial surveillance), that the
ultimate human destruction can be less than 150,000 civilians dying as a
consequence of Khartoum’s ethnically/racially animated war on the
African peoples of Darfur.

[2] Even as this holocaust continues Khartoum has escalated conflict
in the south, in particular in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile
Province. A recent dispatch from this writer highlighted what has been
reported by wire services and what is being reported from the ground by
highly authoritative regional sources. Dismayingly, this is yet another
occasion requiring that the international community recognize the
failure of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) to investigate
attacks on civilians in southern Sudan in a timely, thorough, and
effective fashion. Indeed, the failure to investigate the attack on
eight humanitarian workers in Nimne (Western Upper Nile) in February of
this year is a permanent stain on the moral integrity of CPMT.

But a series of very recent "situation reports" ("sit reps") produced
by CPMT have reached this writer from a confidential source, and despite
their shortcomings, these "sit reps" are the source of important details
and a telling assessment of the present situation in the Shilluk
Kingdom.

[The Shilluk, like the Dinka and Nuer, are part of the larger Nilotic
tribal group; the Shilluk Kingdom comprises an area mainly north of
Malakal town in Upper Nile Province. The defection of Shilluk commander
Lam Akol back to the SPLM/A in October 2003 does much to explain, though
certainly not justify, Khartoum’s decision to launch intense military
offensives in this area.]

Some telling highlights from these "sit reps" by the Civilian
Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT):

"Popwojo [Shilluk Kingdom]:

Assessed as [more than] 97% destroyed (Photo 4)
CPMT witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds (Photo 5)

Village pastor/school teacher identified each grave by name and
discussed the manner in which he found the bodies

Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian
intervention (numbers given by witnesses in this village estimate
displaced at 19,100 between the villages on Diny and Popwojo)

A CPMT member with 18 months of CPMT field investigative experience
described this as the worst systematic destruction/displacement of
civilians he has personally observed since the formation of the CPMT in
August 2002.

A second CPMT member with over 8 years of Sudan experience and 16
months with CPMT described the Government of Sudan offensive in the
Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating ’clearing’ of the oil
region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s."
(Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

Another Khartoum-initiated attack is described in the same "sit rep":

Nyilwak [Shilluk Kingdom]

Assessed as [more than] 75% destroyed (Photo 1)
Eight civilian men (aged 18-60) killed while trying to flee (CPMT
witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds [Photo 2] and interviewed
surviving family members)

Close to 30 civilians wounded; exact count not yet established because
of widespread displacement

Reportedly several thousand head of cattle had been stolen and taken to
Malakal
Reportedly all grain stocks had been stolen or burnt

NGO compounds and clinic (VSF Germany and World Vision) have been
looted and razed (Photo 3)

Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian
intervention
(Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

Other details from another CPMT "sit rep":

"The CPMT witnessed & photographed approximately 100 burned Tukuls
along the Nile River south of Oriny all the way to just north of
Malakal. The burning along this stretch encompasses the villages
mentioned above but destruction is intermittent (burnt/destroyed tukuls
are inter-dispersed with intact tukuls). (Photo #1)."
(Malakal Area Destruction, SITREP # 5, April 4, 2004)

"On March 30, 2004, CPMT flew aerial reconnaissance along the Bahr al
Ghazal River, South of Malakal between Nyilwak, southwest to Popwojo.
(Reference MAP attached) Flight revealed numerous razed villages.
Conservative estimation of destroyed homes in this small stretch: 700
Tukuls. IDPs could be seen in clusters beneath trees along the southern
bank of the river.:
(CPMT Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 3)

There is a good deal more in these "sit reps," but of particular
significance is the account of who is responsible for the fighting, and
this account points unambiguously to Khartoum and its militia allies in
the region:

"There are numerous reports from witnesses that Government of Sudan
militia, Government of Sudan regulars and Government of Sudan Police
attacked villages all around Malakal in the Shilluk Kingdom. All
witnesses state that combined Nuer, Shilluk, and Murle militia forces of
Gabriel Tanginya, James Othow, Thomas Mabor, Gordon Kong, Simon Gatwic,
Joseph Mabota, Moktar Salim and Arok Moijok supported by Government of
Sudan regular troops and police from Tonga and Malakal and their
surrounding garrisons are conducting these attacks. Further, witnesses
claim that Government of Sudan regulars from Malakal have been
supporting the attacks with artillery/mortar fire from barges and
’steamers’ along the Bahr al Ghazal River."
(Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

These "sit reps" make clear that Khartoum has instigated a major
military offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom, using both its regular forces
and its militia allies. The intent is to destroy and displace
civilians, just as it is in Darfur. It is not surprising that one
experienced member of CPMT would "describe the Government of Sudan
offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating
’clearing’ of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late
1990s."

But if not surprising, this renewed assault on southern civilians
forces a critical question: is Khartoum’s evident decision to sign a
peace agreement in Naivasha worth anything? anything at all? The
ongoing contempt for African lives, whether in Darfur or southern Sudan,
could not be clearer. Why should we assume that a signature on a piece
of paper will make any difference? Let us bear in mind that the
National Islamic Front regime has signed many agreements---and has
violated or abrogated every single one of them. The attacks in the
Shilluk Kingdom, again, are clear and highly consequential violations of
both the October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003 agreements concerning
offensive military actions in southern Sudan.

Why will it be different this time in Naivasha?

There is only one possible answer: the international community must
offer unwavering determination and commitment of resources---diplomatic,
material, and peacekeeping. This alone will allow the peace agreement
to be translated into true peace. Khartoum’s cynical calculation,
supported by far too much evidence from the past, is that such
"unwavering determination" and "commitment of resources" is extremely
unlikely. The regime believes that it can sign an agreement, having
held out to the last possible moment, largely to mute international
criticism of its genocidal war in Darfur, and now reap all the benefits
of "making an historic peace." And then the regime hopes to wait until
international attention and commitment drift away, thereby creating
innumerable opportunities for reneging on various terms of the
agreement.

It is shameful how simultaneously obvious and disingenuous Khartoum’s
strategy is. All that can avert a ghastly amplification of this shame,
shame all the more conspicuously on display as we mark the tenth
anniversary of the Rwandan genocide---all that can forestall the
resumption of catastrophic civilian destruction in Sudan in the coming
months---is [1] the most urgent deployment of a large UN peace support
operation, with full logistical capacities, capable personnel, and
military protection if necessary; [2] a very rapid increase in
commitments to emergency transitional aid in the south; [3] and a
determined effort to bring peace and justice to Darfur, beginning with
an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

None of these is in sight; neither then is a just or sustainable peace
for Sudan.

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063

- Tel : 413-585-3326



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