Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 13 February 2008

Darfur enters the Abyss: Khartoum renews massive assaults on civilians

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The international community watches as an increasingly unconstrained
Khartoum regime pushes the Chadian rebel assault on N’Djamena, then
mounts scorched-earth civilian clearances north of el-Geneina (West
Darfur)

Eric Reeves

February 12, 2008 — Senior UN officials describe the situation in Darfur as “spinning out
of control,” on the verge of “all out war,” and marked by
“unprecedented insecurity” for civilians and humanitarians. And
still there is no international action remotely commensurate with these
extraordinarily dire accounts. On the contrary, we see only continued
posturing and pleading, even as the lives of many hundreds of thousands
of civilians in Darfur and Chad have moved into the cross-hairs of a
sweeping new offensive by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime.
This offensive has a number of significant and interrelated objectives:

[1] Supporting, logistically and materially, the Chadian rebels who at
the beginning of February assaulted N’Djamena, capital of Chad, in an
effort to topple the regime of Idriss Déby. Khartoum’s goal is to use
the rebel assault as a means of halting Déby’s provision of sanctuary
and material assistance to the Darfuri rebels, particularly the Justice
and Equality Movement;

[2] Khartoum calculates that if Déby could be toppled---still a
distinct possibility, though militarily he seems to have prevailed for
the present---a successor regime of Chadian rebels would not only halt
aid to Darfuri rebels, but in seeking better relations with Sudan and
Libya would also halt the deployment of the UN-authorized European Union
force for Eastern Chad (EUFOR). EUFOR did temporarily suspend its
deployment in response to the violence in and around N’Djamena,
including the key airport, but Reuters and others report today that
deployment has resumed. For a variety of reasons, Khartoum greatly
fears the presence of a militarily capable force just across its western
border, and thus adjacent to areas in which the regime has just engaged
in a wide range of atrocity crimes;

[3] Khartoum continues to delay, in the most consequential ways,
deployment of the UN/African Union “hybrid” force for Darfur
(UNAMID). Although a “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) has now
been signed by the regime, its willingness to abide by the terms of this
agreement must be judged by the level of compliance with previous
agreements. There is, then, reason for the deepest skepticism, even as
the regime still refuses to agree to a UN-proposed roster of troop- and
civilian police-contributing countries, seriously compromising
UNAMID’s ability to deploy key elements of the planned force in
timely fashion. While present UNAMID personnel have made very small
steps in the six weeks they have enjoyed UN authority in Darfur
(particularly in policing a few of the camps), there has been no
significant improvement in security. On the contrary, overall security
in Darfur and Eastern Chad grows only more threatening to civilians and
humanitarians. There have been extensive humanitarian evacuations in
all regions of Chad following the Khartoum-backed rebel assault,
accompanied by desperate pleas for assistance. Much of Darfur remains
completely inaccessible or only partially accessible to humanitarian
operations, which will almost certainly continue to contract because of
increasing insecurity.

[4] In assaults that have been likened by humanitarian workers to the
worst of the genocidal violence of 2003-2004, Khartoum has unleashed a
wave of attacks on villages and towns north of el-Geneina, capital of
West Darfur. Although these areas fell to the Justice and Equality
Movement in December and January, there is no evidence that the rebels
were themselves in the villages and towns when they endured massive air
and ground attacks by Khartoum’s regular forces, its Janjaweed militia
allies, and both helicopter gunships and fixed-wing military aircraft.

In sum, Khartoum’s largest ambition is to prevent Darfuri rebels from
receiving either sanctuary or arms from N’Djamena; to ensure that
chaos prevails on both sides of the Chad/Darfur border except where its
own military control can be established; and to delay as long as
possible the deployment of an effective UNAMID while it seeks to realize
the genocidal ambitions that have now been in evidence for five years.

Although violence in Darfur has certainly become more chaotic in these
years, and the cross-border nature of that violence is of extreme
concern, it is wrong to suggest this makes analogies to fighting in the
Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia the appropriate ones. A central
regime, effectively claiming “national sovereignty,” controls the
security dynamic with vicious calculation in Darfur, and to a
considerable extent in Chad. Chaos in Darfur, as Human Rights Watch
suggests in the title of a key recent report (November 2007), is
“Chaos by Design.” The international community has a vast amount
of leverage with the central regime, which has repeatedly refused to
comply with UN Security Council resolutions; and yet international
actors, preeminently China, have failed to expend that leverage in
consequential ways---even in the face of Khartoum’s most contemptuous
defiance. This alone disables superficial comparison with DRC or
Somalia.

If we wish to understand the genocidal ambitions of Khartoum, and its
refusal to be constrained in any way by what amounts to little more than
international moral exhortation, the recent attacks on civilians north
of el-Geneina provide unambiguous evidence of a deliberate effort to
destroy the non-Arab people of this region, primarily the Erenga…as
such.

ATTACKS NORTH OF EL-GENEINA, WEST DARFUR

Since late 2007, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has brought
increasing military pressure to bear around the capital of West Darfur,
el-Geneina, less that 25 kilometers from the border with Chad. The most
concerted pressure has come from the areas north and northwest of
el-Geneina, also extremely close to the Chad/Darfur border. JEM
captured in this time period the towns of Silea (55 kilometers north of
el-Geneina), Sirba (35 kilometers north of el-Geneina), and Abu Suruj
(40 kilometers northwest of el-Geneina). They encountered little
military resistance and celebrated the defection to their cause of
significant numbers of Arab militia forces. Other military activity in
the area included Chad’s bombing of Chadian rebel groups based
southwest of el-Geneina, a reported Chadian build-up of forces near
Adré, just across the border from el-Geneina, and Khartoum’s own
military build-up in el-Geneina itself, where insecurity has completely
restricted the movement of humanitarian operations and personnel.

Almost simultaneously, out of this explosive confrontation of military
forces came both the strike against N’Djamena by the Khartoum-backed
rebels, culminating in the battle for Chad’s capital city far to the
west (February 1-3, 2008), and the strike northwards by Khartoum’s
regular military forces and Janjaweed militia allies, supported by
massive, indiscriminate aerial assaults on Silea, Sirba, and Abu Suruj.
Despite the fact that there is no evidence of rebel presence in these
towns at the time of attack, the destruction and displacement of
civilians was overwhelming. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
reports (February 10, 2008):

“Up to 12,000 ‘terrified’ refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region
have fled across the border to neighboring Chad after the latest air
strikes by the Sudanese military and thousands more may be on their
way.” [ ]

“Most of the refugees so far are men, [UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux]
said. But the arrivals are telling UNHCR that ‘thousands of women and
children are on their way’ to Chad, she added.” [ ]

“Caux said UNHCR was looking at way to assist people still trapped in
the three towns bombed by Sudan. ‘Thousands of households have been
directly affected by the bombings and attacks,’ she said.”
(Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], February 10, 2008)

The extremely reliable Opheera McDoom of Reuters reports ([dateline:
el-Fasher], February 10, 2008) that Khartoum’s attacks “forced an
estimated 200,000 from their homes.” Eyewitness accounts by civilians
are horrific:

“A refugee from Sileah told UNHCR that ground attacks by the
Janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese Antonov aircraft,
nearly destroyed Abu Surouj and reportedly caused heavy damage to four
camps for internally displaced people.”

Attacks on camps for Internally Displaced Persons have a grim history
in West Darfur: in September 2005, in what was then an unprecedented
act, Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies attacked the completely
undefended Aro Sharow IDP camp, just north of present fighting. 5,000
civilians were forced to flee, dozens died in the assault---and there
were no consequences other that futile criticism from the African Union
in Darfur.

Other details from wire reports give us the only glimpse we have of the
scale of civilian destruction, as most of these areas are far too
insecure for a significant humanitarian presence. UNAMID received
preliminary reports, “confirming that an estimated 200 casualties have
resulted from the fighting, and the town of Abu Suruj, which is home to
thousands of civilians, has been burned to the ground” (Associated
Press [dateline: UN/New York], February 10, 2008).

Only time will reveal the full extent of the damage, if UNAMID conducts
an effective investigation. For now Reuters also reports:

“A tribal leader from the area, Ibrahim el-Nur, told Reuters on
Sunday he had names of some 44 killed in Sirba town alone. He was still
waiting for initial figures from Abu Surouj. Witnesses say they saw nine
people killed in Suleia. All three towns are in West Darfur near the
border with Chad. Residents say the total death toll could be as high as
200 but they could not yet reach all the bodies. About 200,000 were
forced to flee their homes as a result of the attacks. [The Government
of] Sudan has banned international aid workers from the area in the past
few months so reports are difficult to verify.” (Reuters [dateline:
el-Fasher, North Darfur], February 10, 2008)

“About 200,000 were forces to flee their homes as a result of the
attack”: Darfur has so numbed us to such staggering statistics of
violent displacement that we can barely conceive the reality of almost 3
million internally displaced persons and refugees. This is
approximately half Darfur’s pre-war population. Most of those
displaced have of course lost everything to the destruction and looting
by militia raiders and Khartoum’s regular troops.

Forceful assessments come not from the UN or UN member states, but the
human rights community. Amnesty International reports:

“According to reports from people living in the area, nine military
aeroplanes from [Khartoum’s] Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) were seen
overhead, described as being two MIG [fighter jets], two Antonovs, and
five [attack] helicopters. The attacks started at 10am [Friday, February
8, 2008] and were continuing at sunset. The number of civilians in
Sirba and Abu Suruj has grown due to an influx of internally displaced
people who have fled there after earlier attacks elsewhere. The Justice
and Equality Movement (JEM), an armed group in Darfur opposing the
Government of Sudan, seized control of the area in December 2007. It
remains unclear whether JEM fighters are still in the area.”

“JEM fighters often station themselves within civilian areas. Attacks
by Janjawid and SAF almost invariably fail to discriminate between
civilian and armed groups. On 24 January [2008], Janjawid and SAF forces
carried out an indiscriminate attack on the town of Saraf Jidad near Abu
Suruj. Some 24 people, mostly farmers, including the Fursha (chief) of
the area, were killed in the attack.”

Human Rights Watch minced no words, highlighting also the previous
attack on Saraf Jidad, a town of 15,000:

“The government [of Sudan] and allied militias have responded [to JEM
control of these towns] by indiscriminately attacking villages without
distinguishing between the civilian population and rebel combatants, in
violation of international humanitarian law.” [ ]

“The attacks were carried out by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese
ground troops, supported by attack helicopters and aerial bombardments.
‘The Sudanese government is once again showing its total disregard for
the safety of civilians,’ said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. ‘This return to large-scale attacks on villages
will be catastrophic for Darfur’s civilians, because they’re
completely unprotected.’” (Human Rights Watch press release [New
York], February 10, 2008)

It must be borne in mind that existing UN resolutions ban all military
flights by Khartoum over Darfur. These indiscriminate bombings of
civilian targets not only violate international law, but Khartoum’s
own obligations under the specific terms of UN demands. Similarly, the
UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly demonstrated that Khartoum
has violated the arms embargo on Darfur imposed by UN Security Council
Resolution 1591 (March 2005). And, in yet further unrebuked defiance of
the UN Security Council, Khartoum refuses to accept its responsibilities
to the International Criminal Court, to which atrocity crimes in Darfur
were referred by Resolution 1593 (March 2005). To date there have been
no consequences for the regime for such defiance, and the only regime
official to be formally indicted, former State Minister of the Interior
Ahmed Haroun, has enjoyed a series of high-profile appointments.

Indeed, we are now approaching the fourth anniversary of UN Security
Council Resolution 1556 (July 2004), which “demanded” that Khartoum
disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice. And yet recent
attacks on the towns north of Darfur were carried out with the
coordinated help of hundreds Janjaweed militiamen. Khartoum could
hardly have established a more impressive record of refusing to abide by
UN resolutions, or agreements with international and Sudanese parties,
even as its actions are the primary reason the UN Special Envoy for
Darfur, Jan Eliasson, reported to the Security Council (February 8,
2008),

"‘Over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation
in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently
through events related to Chad.’” (UN News Center, February 9,
2008)

[See below for overview of Chad crisis and its consequences for
Darfur]

Nothing encourages Khartoum more than the “climate of impunity” so
often remarked by UN officials, humanitarian workers, and human rights
investigations---even as there exists no political will to impose
“punishment” on the National Islamic Front regime despite the
conspicuous, indeed overwhelming evidence of its bad faith and
obstructionism. Here again China has led the way in refusing to
countenance any sanctions measures against Khartoum, no matter how
brazen the regime’s defiance and obstructionism, no matter how
egregious its violation of international law.

As a direct consequence, there will be more such brutal assaults on
civilians as we have seen in recent days north of el-Geneina. And in
their wake, we will have more accounts of a sort that are all too
familiar from the past five years. Abu Suruj resident Malik Mohamed,
speaking to Reuters ([dateline: Khartoum] February 8, 2008),

“said he had escaped during the attack early on Friday [February 8,
2008]. ‘First of all I saw two helicopters and Janjaweed on horses and
camels, after that I saw cars,’ he said. ‘The helicopters hit us
four times and around 20 bombs were dropped,’ he said by telephone.
His voice breaking, he said he had no idea where his family was. ‘I am
outside the city and can see burning. They (the attackers) are still
inside.’”

Reuters also reports ([dateline: Khartoum], February 9, 2008):

“Sheikh el-Din Mohamed, who escaped from Suleia, told Reuters by
telephone from Darfur that he saw a bomb flatten a hut with a woman and
her three children in it. He said he also saw attackers kill a driver
from the Sudanese Red Crescent as well as four other civilians.”

Associated Press reports today ([dateline: Geneva], February 12,
2008):

“An international Red Cross employee from Sudan was killed during
fighting last week in Darfur, the humanitarian agency said Tuesday. The
45-year-old water and sanitation technician was in the West Darfur
compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross near the town
of Sileia on Friday when he was killed, said Anna Schaaf, an
International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman. No more details
were available immediately. ‘The ICRC is shocked by the news of this
death,’ the Geneva-based body said in a statement.”

In fact, the terrible truth is that there is no longer anything
shocking about the killing of humanitarian workers in Darfur. The
deliberate killing, threatening, and assaulting of aid workers is part
of a larger policy by Khartoum to limit humanitarian reach and
eventually confine operations to urban areas. And even in the major
towns, humanitarian personnel are targeted by Khartoum’s ruthlessly
efficient security forces. Just over a year ago we had a shocking
example of how contemptuous Khartoum is of international humanitarian
aid efforts in Darfur. Breaking into an impromptu evening party of
workers in Nyala (South Darfur), Khartoum’s security personnel engaged
in the most vicious thuggery:

“Aid workers have described how they watched helplessly as Sudanese
police officers dragged a female United Nations worker from an aid
agency compound in Darfur and subjected her to a vicious sexual attack.
Staff say they feared for their lives when armed police raided their
compound in Nyala, dragging one European woman out into the street by
her hair and savagely beating several other international staff before
arresting a total of 20 UN, aid agency, and African Union staff.” [ ]

“A UN official in Darfur said: ‘If the people responsible for
beating and molesting the aid workers and UN staff are not punished,
others will think they can get away with such crimes and it will happen
again. Should the security situation for international aid workers not
improve and the overall safety of our staff be assured, we will be
forced to withdraw from Darfur.’”

“The latest incident came when police and national security staff
stormed an impromptu party at the aid agency compound in Nyala. The UN
said police beat staff with batons, with UN and aid agency personnel
sustaining serious injuries. Workers at the party said the attacks were
part of a campaign of harassment. ‘It seemed as if they had been
waiting for an excuse to get stuck into some foreign aid workers, and
this was their chance,’ said one.”

"‘Some of the UN guys were seriously injured. I saw a police officer
repeatedly hitting one person in the face and then kicking him on the
back of the head as he lay on the ground.’ Another said: ‘It has
become clear to many of us here that the police and national security
have been stirring up trouble in the local community by spreading
rumours about aid workers and agencies. They are trying to make our work
here as difficult as they can and by getting locals to resent us they
can make aid operations almost impossible to run.’” (The Telegraph
[UK] [dateline: Darfur], January 28, 2007)

Nothing has changed in Khartoum’s attitudes toward the
extraordinarily courageous and dedicated women and men who continue to
work on the ground in Darfur.

Nor has anything changed in the genocidal nature of the human
destruction that emerges clearly in yet another account of the attacks
north of el-Geneina from Reuters ([dateline: Khartoum), February 9,
2008):

“The head of the [non-Arab] Erenga tribe which dominates Abu Surouj
and Sirba, Ishaq Nasir, said they had confirmed 27 dead, but expected
the actual death toll to exceed rebel reports of 200. An exact number
was hard to confirm because attacks continued, he said. ‘These
dead---most of them are tribal leaders or teachers or people working for
the state. Are these people rebels?’ asked Yehia Mohamed Ulama, a
tribal leader from Abu Surouj. He added that JEM had no troops in the
area.”

“Ulama and other tribal elders had left their hometowns, now burnt to
the ground, to come to Khartoum and complain about militia attacks last
month. The visit saved their lives. ‘If someone kills the leadership
of the tribe they mean to wipe it out completely,’ said Bashir Ibrahim
Yehia, a member of parliament for the area. He said 90-year-old Erenga
tribal leader Daoud Idriss was killed in his house with his entire
family on Friday [February 8, 2008] along with school teachers who were
visiting them.”

“If someone kills the leadership of the tribe they mean to wipe it
out completely”: we have too many examples of precisely this form of
ethnically targeted human destruction, focusing on men within a tribe
who function as leaders, teachers, or potential fighters.

UNAMID STILL OFFERS NO PROSPECT OF IMPROVED SECURITY

More than six months after being authorized by the UN Security Council
(Resolution 1769, July 31, 2007), the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur
(UNAMID) has failed to halt the rapid deterioration in security
conditions throughout Darfur. Again, as UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan
Eliasson recently told the Security Council (February 8, 2008):

"‘Over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation
in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently
through events related to Chad.’” (UN News Center, February 9,
2008)

Nor is there any sign of an acceleration of deployment of those
personnel and resources that could make UNAMID into an effective force.
The transport and tactical helicopters critical to the mission have
still not been secured, although there is hope that Ethiopia may have a
few that it will deploy (Bangladeshi helicopters offered to the UN had
neither appropriate range nor night-flying capability). This
unconscionable refusal by militarily capable nations to provide the
necessary helicopters only encourages Khartoum to believe that it can
forestall UNAMID deployment indefinitely. And already the UN’s
Department of Peacekeeping operations has said that it does not expect
full deployment of UNAMID before late in 2008 (Reuters [dateline: UN/New
York], February 5, 2008).

Such dilatory deployment is doubly threatening. Not only does it
suggest that civilians and humanitarians will not be receiving adequate
protection for many months, but the people in Darfur are already growing
restless with the many delays. Briefing the Security Council this past
Friday (February 8, 2008), the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie
Guéhenno, “warned that if Darfurians ‘see that we cannot meet
their expectations---and their expectations are very high---then I think
they will be in a very difficult situation’” (New York Times
[dateline: UN/New York], February 9, 2008).

General Martin Agwai, the UNAMID force commander, has put the matter
even more forcefully:

“Agwai [ ] said one of the biggest challenges will be to manage the
refugees’ [i.e., internally displaced persons’] high expectations with
the force’s meager capacity. But time is limited, he said. He estimates
the refugees will probably tolerate current levels of violence and
insecurity for a little while as the UN builds up its presence. But he
fears a ‘volcanic eruption’ against the mission if any atrocities
take place and Darfur civilians feel the UN has failed to protect
them.” (Associated Press [dateline: Abou Shouk camp, North Darfur],
January 28, 2008)

As the attacks in West Darfur reveal all too clearly, new and
large-scale atrocity crimes have already been committed by
Khartoum---with much evidence to suggest that there will be more.
Certainly Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency campaign, even in a
lower gear of violent attacks, will still do much to provoke the
“volcanic eruption” that General Agwai rightly fears. Moreover,
key enabling personnel of UNAMID (what used to be referred to as the
“heavy support package” for the African Union mission in Darfur)
have still not been approved by Khartoum. Nor is there any indication
that Khartoum intends to yield on the key matter of non-African
personnel, even as these are critical to the mission concept:

“Guéhenno said the international peacekeeping force for Darfur
urgently needed a decision by the government in Khartoum to permit the
participation of critical military units from Thailand and Nepal. Only a
third of the anticipated 26,000 members of the force---a joint effort by
the United Nations and the African Union---are in Darfur, and the
government has been objecting to the participation of non-African
troops. Guéhenno said that the force was ‘predominately African,’ as
the Security Council resolution authorizing it had specified, but that
it could not be ‘exclusively African,’ as Sudan seemed to be
insisting, and still be able to fulfill its mission.” (New York Times
[dateline: UN/New York], February 9, 2008)

Guéhenno insisted further that,

“‘To have a force that is exclusively African in character is
another matter,’ Guéhenno told [Security Council] delegates. And
‘there are a number of important reasons why a broader mix of troop
contributors is necessary.’ ‘It is important that UNAMID’s force
composition should draw upon a broad range of countries, since due
consideration must be given to the geographical balance of the
(military) force in order to have an operation that is perceived as
impartial by the (warring) parties’ in Darfur, he added.” (Inter
Press Service [dateline UN/New York], February 8, 2008)

Put bluntly, Darfuris do not trust the troops of Arab African
countries, especially those such as Egypt that have done so much to
bolster the Khartoum regime, even as the trust of Darfuris is critical
to any successful outcome for UNAMID. A “Status of Forces
Agreement” may have been signed on February 9, 2008; but without
the requisite “forces,” the agreement is another paper triumph for
Khartoum, one in a long string.

What is also troubling about current international failure to overcome
the regime’s conspicuous obstructionism is that unless security
improves, the chances for peace negotiations---and thus durable
security---will continue to dwindle, as deeper and deeper mistrust takes
hold among the rebel groups. Inter Press Service reports from Khartoum
(January 24, 2008) that Sam Ibok, chief AU negotiator for Darfur,

“attaches great importance to the UNAMID force and says that, unless
its weaknesses are addressed, it will not be possible to start the next
round of peace talks. ‘UNAMID is necessary for bringing security and
protection to the people of Darfur so that they can have the confidence
to search for a political solution to the conflict.’”

But UNAMID is simply not gaining traction, and if security and
protection are prerequisites for successful peace talks, then
Khartoum’s broader strategy becomes clearer. Content to let
insecurity and the attenuation of humanitarian assistance take an
increasingly debilitating toll on life in the camps and rural areas, and
aware that Darfuris will become increasingly angry at the failure of
UNAMID to offer the protection for which they’ve waited five years,
Khartoum will pretend to be willing to negotiate in good faith, knowing
full well that increasing insecurity and deteriorating humanitarian
conditions makes it impossible for rebel groups---and that of Abdel
Wahid el-Nur and his followers---to come to the negotiating table.

For example, whether or not it is directly responsible for the sharp
increase in attacks on UN World Food Program convoys, Khartoum knows
full well the devastating impact of these assaults and yet refuses to
assist meaningfully with security:

“A surge of truck hijackings threatens to cut off food rations for
more than 2 million people in Darfur, the World Food Program said
Wednesday, after 22 of its vehicles were attacked and stolen this month
[January 2008] alone. With 18 drivers still missing, the UN agency said
its main contracting companies refuse to send more food convoys into
Darfur. ‘If the situation continues, we’ll be forced to cut rations in
parts of Darfur by mid-February,’ Kenro Oshidari, the head of WFP
operations in Sudan, said in a statement.”

“The increase in violence comes barely three weeks after the United
Nations took over peacekeeping in the remote region of western Sudan
where 2.5 million people have been chased into refugee camps by five
years of war. Five separate attacks targeted aid workers throughout
Darfur just on Tuesday [January 22, 2008], officials said. Among those
were ambushes of two WFP convoys in West Darfur and the detention of
five WFP staff when their cars were stolen near the North Darfur state
capital of El Fasher.” [ ]

“The food convoys to Darfur form the world’s longest humanitarian
route, with nearly 1,864 miles to cross between the nearest port on the
Red Sea to the desert town of El Geneina, near the border with Chad.
Nearly twice as many WFP trucks have been hijacked this month than in
the previous four months combined, and the UN said seven humanitarian
vehicles have also been stolen so far. Some 369 tons of food were looted
in the latest attacks, and the lack of trucks means deliveries will be
cut by half. ‘Without these deliveries, WFP faces a rapid depletion of
stocks’ and could face a shortage by the time seasonal rains block
most roads in May, Oshidari said.” (Associated Press [dateline:
Khartoum], January 23, 2008)

A World Food Program press release (Khartoum, January 23, 2008) adds
significant details to this critical development:

“In December, WFP fed 2.1 million conflict-affected people in Darfur,
most of them internally displaced people in camps. A total of 106,000
vulnerable people could not be reached with food assistance in December
because of insecurity. Some 40,000 metric tons of food is needed to feed
Darfur’s most vulnerable people each month.”

“The transport companies currently refusing to send their trucks back
into Darfur normally deliver between 15,000 and 20,000 tons per month.
‘Without these deliveries, WFP faces a rapid depletion of stocks
and the inability to pre-position food ahead of the rainy season, which
is due to start in May,’ Oshidari said. WFP is working out what form
ration cuts might take, where, and how many people would be affected if
the banditry continues.”

Who will be fed, who will not? The international community’s moral
cowardice before Khartoum’s defiance and its callous attitudes toward
such unspeakable suffering and deprivation have forced this terrible
question upon some of the finest and most courageous humanitarian
workers in the world. It is a disgrace beyond mitigation.

THE CHAD/DARFUR CONNECTIONS

Over the past three years Idriss Déby, the cruel and corrupt President
of Chad, has played a central role in the Darfur crisis, though the
crises in eastern Chad and western Sudan have never been separable.
Unable to resist the political pressures from his fellow Zaghawa
tribesmen to support Zaghawa elements in the Darfur rebel groups
(especially the JEM), Déby inevitably found himself fighting a proxy
war. For Khartoum saw Déby’s decision as forcing a comparable arming
and supporting of Chadian rebel groups. But while the Darfur rebellion
is largely about very real grievances of longstanding, and the rebel
groups---at least initially---represented many of the aspirations of
Darfur’s people, the Chadian rebels are not so much aggrieved as
greedy for a share of the national wealth and power which Déby has
ruthlessly controlled for almost 18 years.

Like his counterparts in Khartoum, Déby is a survivalist, and will
sacrifice his people in whatever fashion is necessary to keep himself in
power. Indeed, human rights groups Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch have expressed concern that Déby has used the current
military crisis to round up civilian opposition leaders with no link to
the rebellion. The risk of torture and murder is considerable. But
precisely because civil society is so weak in Chad, any regime change is
likely to bring to power men no less corrupt than Déby himself, many
with strong ties to the Déby regime or the previous and no less corrupt
regime of Hissène Habré.

This is of course no concern to Khartoum. Indeed, a strong dispatch by
Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times gets at a key feature of the
“Chadian” rebellion:

“Experts say [the government of] Sudan played a key role in
organizing Chad’s disparate groups of bickering rebels into the current
coalition, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, that is
fighting in N’Djamena. Sudanese officials pledged their support for an
assault, but only if the rebels united.”

“David Buchbinder, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said a rebel
takeover would amount to a foreign policy victory for Sudan, which has
sheltered the Chadian rebels and given them weapons. ‘For Sudan, this
represents a military solution to the Darfur conflict,’ he said.
‘It’s not a done deal, but if Déby is overthrown, it means that the
Darfur rebels have enemies on both sides. They are surrounded.’ A
Sudanese-backed coup would provide Sudan’s government with a base from
which to attack rebels in Darfur and raise the possibility of attacks on
refugee camps in eastern Chad, analysts said.” ([dateline: Nairobi],
February 4, 2008)

Buchbinder’s views on the larger military implications of a
successful Chadian coup are shared by Suliman Baldo of the International
Center for Transitional Justice:

“The real winner if Mr. Déby falls would be President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir’s Islamist government in Sudan, who might feel encouraged to
try to smash the Darfur rebels and even challenge Mr. Déby’s allies in
CAR. ‘Khartoum would be very emboldened,’ said Suliman Baldo, of the
International Center for Transitional Justice. ‘They would escalate
their military campaign to try and settle the Darfur issue on the
battlefield.’” (The Financial Times [London], February 4, 2008)

The serious threat of a Khartoum-orchestrated coup by Chadian rebels in
N’Djamena is the source of acute risks to humanitarian operations in
Eastern Chad, even as many tens of thousands of Darfuris have crossed or
are headed into this volatile region---most fleeing the recent fighting
north of el-Geneina. There are already approximately 500,000 Darfuri
refugees, Chadian internally displaced persons, and refugees from
Central African Republic in Eastern Chad. They, as well as hundreds of
thousands of others who have been affected by conflict---much of it
instigated by Khartoum over the past two years---are in desperate need
of humanitarian assistance. But since the beginning of February and the
Chadian rebel assault on N’Djamena, there have been a series of
alarming reports from humanitarian organizations, including evacuation
notices and warnings of imminent threats to the populations of refugees
and displaced persons.

Most recently the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports
([dateline: N’Djamena], February 10, 2008):

“Security was ‘spiralling downwards’ for agencies attempting to
assist refugees from Sudan who were fleeing into eastern Chad. ‘We are
already operating in an environment where security is spiralling
downwards, where the supply from N’djamena is cut after recent
fighting, and where our field offices are running short of fuel,’
UNHCR spokeswoman Catherine Huck said.”

The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks provided an overview as
of February 4, 2008 ([dateline: Goz Beida, Eastern Chad], February 4,
2008):

“Non-essential UN staff and international workers from some
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been evacuated from Abéché
where the managerial staff of the more than 50 aid agencies working with
refugees and displaced people in eastern Chad sit, but operational staff
are still working at most field offices and refugee camps.”

“Humanitarian workers in Chad told IRIN that except in the areas of
the refugee camps at Farchana, Guereda and Iriba in the northeast, which
are considered to be at high risk of clashes between rebels and the army
as they are close to the rebel border crossing, looting is considered
the biggest risk in other towns if aid staff are evacuated.”

“The World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a statement on 4 February
[2008] that insecurity in Chad threatens its food distributions to
refugee camps in the east, and also the pre-positioning of food which is
essential for Darfur refugees to survive through the three month rainy
season which starts in June and floods much of the eastern region.”

“The NGOs Oxfam and Save the Children have also released statements
warning their operations for refugees and displaced people are at risk
because of the insecurity in N’djamena and the region.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees reported on February 6, 2008 that
more than 150 UN international staff and staff of partnering
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations had been evacuated from Abéché
in the east and N’Djamena---a huge draw-down of professional
capacity.

Action Against Hunger (UK) reports in a press release of February 7,
2008:

“With transport on a standstill, no supplies such as fuel and food
are reaching Abéché [the major humanitarian aid hub in Eastern Chad] any
more. Although people living in these camps [in the border regions] are
not at imminent risk, aid flows have seriously been hampered for the
forthcoming weeks. Should humanitarian relief efforts continue to be
hampered, the humanitarian situation in camps could rapidly
deteriorate.”

The UN’s World Food Program is further worried about its abilities to
pre-position food in Eastern Chad before the start of the rainy season
in June, given the severing of the humanitarian corridor running from
Cameroon into N’djamena by rebel fighting:

“World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume tells Voice of
America it is critical that the humanitarian corridor between Cameroon
and Chad] be re-opened as quickly as possible. ‘Because we need
absolutely to pre-position food before the rainy season starts and it
starts in June and it lasts for five months,’ she said. ‘And, the
rainy season in the eastern part of Chad is so bad that it cuts this
area from the rest of the country. There is no way we can bring food by
road. The road is totally flooded.’” (Voice of America [dateline:
Geneva], February 9, 2008)

THE DEBY REGIME

While it is of central importance that the opportunistic Chadian rebels
have been supported materially and logistically by Khartoum for military
purposes, the Chadian government is in some ways just as opportunistic.
This is reflected in the brutal ultimatum issued by Chadian Prime
Minister Nouradin Koumakoye. Speaking as thousands of Darfuri civilians
were fleeing towns and villages that had been destroyed by Khartoum and
the Janjaweed, Koumakoye,

“demanded Monday [February 9, 2008] that the international community
remove refugees who have fled to Chad from Sudan’s Darfur region,
warning that Chadian authorities would otherwise do it themselves. Prime
Minister Nouradin Koumakoye charged that Sudan’s government has fomented
violence in Chad---including backing a failed coup attempt last
week---because of the refugees’ presence. [ ]

In a profoundly disingenuous and supremely callous account of tensions
between N’Djamena and Khartoum, Koumakoye declared:

“‘We are being attacked by Sudan because of these refugees,’
Koumakoye told reporters in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. ‘We demand
that the international community transfer the population (of Sudanese
refugees) from Chad to Sudan to free us,’ he said. ‘We want the
international community to look for another country so that the Sudanese
can leave. If they cannot do it, we are going to do it.’”
(Associated Press [dateline: N’Djamena], February 11, 2008)

It is doubtful, though not impossible, that Chad would begin forced
repatriation of Darfuri refugees: the Déby regime is far too precarious
to risk outrage within the international community, particular among the
European nations that will be deploying the critically necessary EUFOR
mission to Eastern Chad. Déby now sees this force as a military bulwark
that will make it much more difficult for Chadian rebels to regroup,
re-arm and re-supply, and attack again from Darfur.

For just this reason, as many have observed, EUFOR’s major challenge
will be to preserve its neutrality in deploying to Eastern Chad,
particularly since the bulk of the forces will be French. The Chadian
rebel groups believe, with considerable justification, that France has
sided with the Déby regime in yet another instance of what is know on
the continent as “Francafrique”---the preservation of preferred
dictatorial rule in former French colonies. Certainly French failure to
put pressure on Déby to address the deeper political issues in his
country amounts to a tacit endorsement of the status quo. As David
Mozersky of the International Crisis Group has declared:

“‘There is still no one talking about the governance issue in
Chad…it’s astonishing that people are not asking lots of questions
about the deeper issues.’” (Reuters [dateline: Dakar], February 8,
2008)

Alex de Waal of Justice Africa also declared “he was astonished that
France was not openly using its diplomatic and military leverage over
Déby to push him to open a political dialogue with his foes.”
(Reuters [dateline: Dakar], February 8, 2008)

THE NECESSITY OF EUFOR

But for all the criticism that may be made of France, it is French
President Sarkozy who has been the galvanizing force for EUFOR, which
must deploy urgently, despite the high risks. For the risks of leaving
civilians and humanitarians unprotected in Eastern Darfur are finally
much greater and more threatening. Moreover, the presence of EUFOR,
even if dramatically undermanned for the mission it is undertaking, will
likely also work to forestall further cross-border violence on the part
of Khartoum and its Janjaweed proxies, including aerial assaults on
civilian targets in Chad. It must not be forgotten how severe and
destructive this violence was, beginning in 2005, and how much it did to
animate the ethnic violence that has subsequently pervaded life in
Eastern Chad. Human Rights Watch provided excellent accounts of this
violence in early 2006, making clear the urgent need for humanitarian
intervention:

“The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to
its neighbor by providing material support to Janjaweed militias [ ], by
backing Chadian rebel groups that it allows to operate from bases in
Darfur, and by deploying its own armed forces across the border into
Chad. [ ] Attacks on Chadian civilians accelerated dramatically in the
wake of a December 2005 assault on Adré, in eastern Chad, by Chadian
rebels with bases in Darfur and supported by the government of Sudan.”
[ ]

“On some occasions, the Janjaweed attacks [on civilians in Chad]
appear to be coordinated with those of the Chadian rebels. On other
occasions, Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad
accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support.”
(Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in
Chad,” February 2006, page 2).

Concerning the use of helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft, Human
Rights Watch found,

“evidence of apparent Sudanese government involvement in attacks
against civilian populations in eastern Chad since early December 2005.
Witness accounts and physical evidence indicated that government of
Sudan troops and helicopter gunships participated directly in attacks,
while many people reported seeing Antonov aircraft approach from Sudan,
circle overhead, then return to Sudan in advance of Janjaweed raids;
they believe spotters in these aircraft report concentrations of cattle
to forces on the ground.” (page 11)

In its November 15, 2006 report on the situation in Eastern Chad
(“Chad/Sudan: End Militia Attacks on Civilians: UN-AU Summit Must
Strengthen International Force in Darfur and Chad,” November 15, 2006
at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/11/15/darfur14609.htm), Human Rights
Watch reported it had,

“also collected dozens of accounts from survivors of a wave of
militia attacks in Chad over the past few weeks. Victims of the militia
attacks in southeastern Chad consistently state that groups of Chadian
Arab nomads have been newly armed and are responsible for many of the
attacks, which have killed and injured hundreds of civilians.”

These new arms certainly came from Khartoum’s military command and
constituted further evidence of the regime’s determination to
de-stabilize the Eastern Chad region, both to counter Darfuri rebel
presence, and to extend genocidal counter-insurgency warfare, including
by way of “paying” Darfuri Janjaweed in the form of booty from raids
against civilians in Chad:

“‘We’re seeing a regional war against civilians, with armed
groups on both sides of the border actively supported or tolerated by
the Sudanese and Chadian governments,’ said Peter Takirambudde, Africa
director at Human Rights Watch. ‘The high-level meetings in [Addis
Ababa,] Ethiopia must produce a clear plan for immediate deployment of
international troops to protect civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad.
The force should also monitor and enforce the arms embargo in
Darfur.’”

A sense of the scale of the destruction was also offered in the Human
Rights Watch report of November 2006:

“Chadian militia groups have attacked dozens of villages in
southeastern Chad over the last 10 days, killing several hundred
civilians, injuring scores of people and driving at least 10,000 people
from their homes. In a wave of violence that is sweeping through rural
areas, villagers are defending themselves with spears and poisoned
arrows against militia groups of Arab nomads armed with automatic
weapons. A clear pattern has emerged in which Chadian Arab militia
groups are targeting non-Arab villages in southeastern Chad.”

“Militia groups attacked as many as 60 Chadian villages separated by
several hundred kilometers of rugged terrain on November 4-5 [2006] and
in the week that followed. The militias then loot the villages that have
been cleared of civilians. In some instances, villages are attacked or
destroyed but not looted, suggesting the motive is not robbery, and the
level of brutality is rising. Human Rights Watch documented several
attacks where militia members mutilated men in their custody and
deliberately burned women to death.”

“‘Political and military incursions from Darfur are inflaming
underlying ethnic tensions in Chad,’ Takirambudde said. ‘The
widespread attacks in Chad suggest that these are not merely instances
of localized, spontaneous conflict, but may be part of a coordinated
campaign by Chadian militias to remove civilians from key areas.’”

It was clear at the time that ethnic violence that had defined conflict
in Darfur had the potential to be exported even further west in Chad.
Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times reported in an important dispatch
from Djedidah, Chad (October 31, 2006):

“Arab men on horseback rode into her village, shouting racial
epithets over the rat-tat-tat of Kalashnikov gunfire. ‘They shouted
“zurga,”’ [Halima Sherif] said, an Arabic word for black [*and
also a derogatory racial epithet---ER*]. ‘They told us they would take
our land. They shot many people and burned our houses. We all ran
away.’ Scenes like this one have been unfolding in the war-ravaged
Darfur region of western Sudan for more than three years, and since the
beginning of this year Sudanese Arabs have also been attacking Chadian
villages just across Sudan’s porous border.”

“But the attacks on Djedidah and nine villages around it in early
October [2006] took place not in Darfur, or even on Chad’s violent
border with Sudan. It took place relatively deep inside Chad, about 95
kilometers, or 60 miles, from the border---a huge distance in a place
with few roads and where most travel is by horse, donkey or on foot.”

“Beyond that, the attack was carried out not by Sudanese raiders from
across the border but by Chadian Arabs, according to victims of the
attack. ‘They were our neighbors,’ Sherif said, as she hurried to
collect a few goats from the charred remains of her family compound.
‘We know them. They are Chadian.’”

“The violence in Darfur has been spilling over into Chad since at
least early this year [but] the violence around one of the other
interior villages that was attacked, Kou Kou, is different and ominous,
aid workers and analysts say. It appears to have been done by Chadian
Arabs against non-Arab villages in Chad, and was apparently inspired by
similar campaigns of violence by Sudanese Arab militias in Sudan.”

And the most prescient assessment was offered by Human Rights Watch
Chad researched David Buchbinder:

“If the racial and ethnic conflict that has infected Darfur is being
copied by Chad’s Arabs, then the violence spreading beyond Darfur’s
borders could presage even further regional conflict, said David
Buchbinder, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who specializes in Chad.
‘The racial ideology is spreading, and that is very dangerous,’
Buchbinder said.”

What we are seeing well over a year later are these terrible fears
realized, as Khartoum pursues its genocidal counterinsurgency campaign
by all means available. Human Rights Watch’s call for an
international force has not been heeded with nearly sufficient urgency,
which brings enormous time pressure to bear on the European deployment.

The major difficulties confronting EUFOR are its belatedness (it will
not deploy fully for months), its challenge in preserving its neutrality
in an exceedingly complex political and military situation, and its
painfully small size. French General Jean-Philippe Ganascia, who will
have operational control of the mission on the ground, recently noted
that,

“his force was tasked with securing an area 26 times the size of
Kosovo, scene of a much bigger EU mission, and its 3,700-troop mandate
was 1,000 fewer than first planned.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena],
February 9, 2008)

In fact, experts at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations
estimate that EUFOR is only a quarter of the size necessary to undertake
its mission in an area of 350,000 square kilometers.

Even so, EUFOR is being welcomed enthusiastically by desperate
humanitarians. The well-seasoned and skilful Serge Male, the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in N’Djamena, declared
just before the recent Chadian rebel assault on the capital:

“‘Finally. The UN High Commission for Refugees has asked for an
international military presence for a year and a half.’ He added that
the force should ‘bring a little stability and security, and open some
doors to allow for the displaced to return to their villages.’”
(Agence France-Presse [dateline: N’Djamena], January 30, 2008)

REALITIES

But there should be no premature celebration, even if EUFOR begins to
deploy in earnest with the retreat of the Chadian rebels back into their
sanctuary in Darfur. EUFOR is in many ways fulfilling the mandate of UN
Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 2006), which specified that the
UN force, authorized under Chapter 7 auspices of the UN Charter, was to
have established “a multidimensional presence consisting of political,
humanitarian, military and civilian police liaison officers in key
locations in Chad, including in internally displaced persons and refugee
camps” (R. 1706, Paragraph 9 [d]).

Of course Khartoum flatly refused to accept this authorized peace
support operation, an action without precedent in the history of UN
peacekeeping, and which has created the unwieldy split between the
mandates of EUFOR and the UN/African Union “hybrid” force in Darfur
(UNAMID). The poorly conceived UNAMID has created yet further and in
many ways crippling problems, and remains very much under the control of
Khartoum’s policy of obstructionism. EUFOR without the presence of
UNAMID will have an immensely more complex and challenging set of tasks
in civilian and humanitarian protection. The attacks north of
el-Geneina---with tens of thousands of civilians caught between Chad and
Darfur, between the military ambitions of N’Djamena and
Khartoum---provide a terribly vivid example.

As de Waal has suggested, we are not likely to have seen the last of
the Chadian rebels: they make too inviting a proxy for Khartoum. And as
Human Rights Watch’s Buchbinder cogently remarks,

“By attacking and destabilizing Chad, which has supported the Darfur
rebels, Sudan will undermine its strongest enemies at home---with
alarming consequences for the civilian population caught up in the
Darfur conflict. ‘It’s the triumph of the military solution to the
Darfur conflict,’ said Buchbinder. I think this is a very bad time for
the refugees.’” (International War and Peace Reporting [dateline:
The Hague], February 7, 2008)

How bad will continue to depend on whether the international community
can muster the courage and honesty to confront the Khartoum regime and
forestall its ghastly “military solution.” Past evidence is
altogether depressing.

* Eric Reeves is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu. www.sudanreeves.org



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