Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 10 February 2004

Khartoum story of the "Intransigence Rewarded"


Khartoum Refuses to Attend Talks on Humanitarian Access for Darfur, Refuses to Accept the Need for UN Peacekeepers in Southern Sudan: Yet More Chapters in the Story of "Intransigence Rewarded"

By Eric Reeves

Feb 10, 2004 — Even as National Islamic Front President Omer el-Beshir has declared
that the insurgency groups in Darfur have been militarily "crushed"
(BBC, February 9, 2004), his Khartoum regime is nonetheless refusing to
attend discussions aimed at increasing desperately needed humanitarian
access to the region---humanitarian access that has been virtually
halted by Khartoum’s savage military actions. Talks on this critical
issue had been agreed to, under the distinguished auspices of the
Geneva-based [Henry Dunant] Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, by both
major insurgency groups in Darfur---the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and
the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Sudan Federal Alliance
party, whose chairman Ahmad Ibrahim Dirayj is from Darfur, had also
agreed to participate and help bring about a cease-fire, or at least a
pause in fighting for humanitarian purposes.

But the National Islamic Front’s increasingly powerful Mutrif Siddiq,
undersecretary in the foreign ministry, declared yesterday that the
regime would not attend "because the issue of [humanitarian] access had
been ’politicised’ too much. Issues of humanitarian access should not be
’subject to manipulations’ and used ’as a tool for political and
military gains,’ he said" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
February 9, 2004).

This claim could not distort realities more completely: it is precisely
Khartoum’s own "militarization" of humanitarian access that is at issue.
The regime has for months now manipulated humanitarian access so as to
deny relief to the civilian population perceived as supporting the
insurgency groups. The "political" response of the international
community, limited as it has been, is being driven by Khartoum’s
militarily purposeful denial of humanitarian assistance to civilians
among the African tribal groups, the Fur, the Masseleit, and the
Zaghawa. The decision not to participate in humanitarian access talks
is the clearest sign to date that despite recent urgent appeals from the
US Agency for International Development, Norway, and Canada, Khartoum
will continue to use the denial of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war.

It must also be said that Beshir’s statement that the insurgency in
Darfur has been "crushed" is, characteristically, both wrong and
expedient. Continuing and highly credible reports of fighting in
Northern Darfur state have come in the last few days to this writer.
And just this morning (February 10, 2004) there are new reports of
fighting west of Zalingei (northwest of Nyala) in Western Darfur state.
To be sure, the "fighting" consists mainly of civilian destruction---the
burning of villages, the looting of livestock, murder, rape, torture,
abduction, and further civilian displacements. But it continues and
Beshir can declare the opposite only because there is no news presence
or meaningful humanitarian access in Darfur to provide the contradictory

Why has Beshir made this declaration and why now? Clearly to the
degree that there has been an international response to the Darfur
catastrophe, the Khartoum regime is discomfited, especially with talks
scheduled to resume next week (February 17, 2004, in Naivasha [Kenya])
between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Desperate not to have the brutal realities of Darfur weaken its
negotiating position in Naivasha, Khartoum has simply announced victory
and offered a wholly meaningless amnesty for insurgency groups that
clearly are continuing to resist strenuously. (There continue to be
scores of reports of arrest, detention, torture, and the extrajudicial
killing of Darfur civilians suspected of supporting the insurgency
groups; it takes little imagination to understand the terrible fate of
most who might take advantage of this "amnesty.")

But of course if Khartoum had truly prevailed militarily (an impossible
task, if only for reasons of geography) there would no longer be a
reason to resist allowing humanitarian access. The refusal of the
regime to engage in talks focused on this issue under the auspices of
the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue can mean only that Khartoum is
fully determined to control all access to, and thus first-hand
information out of, Darfur. If humanitarian access were allowed, the
overwhelming evidence of genocidal destruction by the regime would be
far too conspicuous.

In short, Khartoum is, again characteristically, trying to have it both
ways: declaring that the insurgency in Darfur has been "crushed," but at
the same time refusing to allow for, or even negotiate, humanitarian
access. The shameful transparency of this duplicity is matched only by
the apparent international unwillingness to do more than talk about the
urgency of the crisis in Darfur. Recent statements on the unfolding
catastrophe by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have been dismayingly

This is the worst signal to be sending to Khartoum as the climactic
session of peace talks is set to resume in Naivasha. Here we also see
signs that Khartoum is behaving at once expediently and disingenuously,
as various members of the National Islamic Front are rejecting the
belated but still welcome statement by Colin Powell on the UN peace
support operation that will be needed in the wake of any agreement
between Khartoum and the SPLM. Powell declared last week that "’if we
get a settlement in Sudan, then there will be another requirement there
for 8,000 to 10,000 U.N. monitors,’ Powell told African journalists,
according to a transcript provided by the State Department" (Reuters,
February 6, 2004).

This key requirement for a sustainable peace in Sudan was almost
immediately rejected by Khartoum. State Foreign Minister Najeeb al-Khair
Abdel Wahah declared that the National Islamic Front "disagreed with US
Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assessment" and "’prefers that the
responsibility for keeping the peace shall be confined to the Sudanese’"
(Agence France-Presse, February 8, 2004). And just yesterday, in yet
another instance of spectacular mendacity on Khartoum’s part, Said
Khatib, the regime’s official spokesman, declared that,

"there had been no consultations at any level of the peace process on
the need for peacekeepers. ’This is the first time the peacekeepers
issue is arising. It has never come up in the peace process itself that
there is any need for peacekeepers in Sudan after the final agreement,’
he said. [ ] ’This issue [of peacekeepers] did not arise from the IGAD
process, from the UN, or from the US observers in the peace process
itself.’" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 10,

Of course Khartoum is well aware that belated but significant UN
Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) planning for a UN peace
support operation has been underway since November of 2003. Indeed,
Khartoum was consulted on various aspects of the peace support
operation, as was the SPLM and other regional actors. These
consultations would certainly have included not only Khartoum’s
political figures, but military and security authorities as well. The
claim by Said Khatib that there "there had been no consultations at any
level of the peace process on the need for peacekeepers" is simply and
conspicuously a lie.

But this is a lie with very considerable significance on the eve of a
meeting between US officials in Khartoum (led by acting US Assistant
Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder) and the NIF
regime. The meeting takes place tomorrow, February 11, 2004, and there
is no evidence that the Bush administration is contemplating bringing
any meaningful additional pressure to bear on Khartoum. It is in this
context, and immediately prior to the resumption of peace talks in
Naivasha, that Khartoum has lied so shamelessly about peacekeeping
operations, and so clearly rejected Colin Powell’s assessment of the
need for a UN peace support operation.

This latter response alone should make clear to all that Khartoum is no
longer serious about peace talks---it it ever was. For there can be no
meaningful peace without a substantial, mobile, logistically
well-equipped and well-led UN peace support operation (see analyses by
this writer, October 2 and November 14, 2003; available upon request).
The notion of leaving peacekeeping to Sudanese forces along is, as all
in the international community recognize, a formula for disaster.

Slowly, inexorably the US and its allies are squandering the
opportunity for peace in Sudan. By refusing to bring clear and decisive
pressure to bear on Khartoum, the Bush administration has acquiesced not
only in the ongoing genocidal destruction in Darfur, but is allowing
Khartoum to create what loom as insuperable obstacles to a final peace
agreement with the south. No southern party---not the SPLM or any
other---can possibly sign a peace agreement that does not have a fully
adequate UN peace support operation to guarantee what may be signed in

The clear diplomatic logic of the situation, and the transparent
threats to the peace process Khartoum is presenting, are either not
known to the Bush administration---or are being deliberately overlooked.
The former is hardly credible; the latter suggests that this
administration is losing interest in Sudan and is preparing to make do
in the coming election without what was to have been a signature foreign
policy achievement. Instead, the administration gives every sign of
being prepared to accept any agreement that might serve as a fig-leaf
for its failure to secure a truly just and sustainable peace for Sudan.

The inevitable consequence of a breakdown in the peace process, or of
the signing of a merely contrived and expedient agreement, will be
resumed wide-scale war in southern Sudan, as soon as Khartoum feels as
though the situation in Darfur permits a major redeployment of military
assets. But this may not be for a while, and we can expect as a
consequence to see Khartoum attempt to string out the peace process as
long as possible in Naivasha, thereby extending its still urgently
needed window of military opportunity in Darfur. For whatever Khartoum
may say about having crushed the insurgency, the evidence points
entirely the other way.

Indeed, Khartoum’s declaration that the Darfur insurgency has been
"crushed" is no less a patent lie than the regime’s statements
denying that the issue of UN peacekeeping in southern Sudan had
previously been broached. As for the true military situation in Darfur,
the insurgency groups themselves are openly disputing Khartoum’s claim:

"Abu Bakr Hamid al-Nur, the JEM’s spokesman and general coordinator,
told IRIN on Tuesday that rebel forces had temporarily fled the three
main towns of Tine, Karnoi and Ambara, due to heavy government air
bombardments, but were fully in control of all of the region’s rural
areas and other towns. He said the rebel forces were now surrounding
the deserted towns." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
February 10, 2004)

This is certainly much closer to the truth than Khartoum’s
spectacularly implausible claim, as is the assessment offered yesterday
by the SLA:

"Rebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) disputed [Beshir’s]
words. ’All of the things Bashir said are totally wrong. We have
control of large parts of Darfur,’ SLA Chairman Abdel Wahed Mohamed
Ahmed al-Nur told Reuters. He said government planes had bombed
villages near Kebkabiya in Northern Darfur State on Monday." (Reuters,
February 9, 2004)

The latter statement made by the SLA chairman has been confirmed to
this writer by an independent source, with direct contacts inside
Darfur, including the area of Kebkabiya. Other reports of new fighting
and civilian destruction are coming from Western Darfur. A highly
reliable human rights source, Arabic-speaking and a Darfur native,
reports today that Khartoum’s regular and militia forces attacked
villages in area of Derassah and Moornay (approximately 100 kilometers
west of Zalingei), killing 40 civilians and destroying eight more
villages: Tour, Barkou, Bagoj, Balla, Goss-Bahar, Tollous, Ashmarra, and
an eighth village not yet identified by name.

As in southern Sudan, the geography of Darfur is a military nightmare
for Khartoum. Logistics are almost impossibly difficult (there is no
train line, for example, as there is to Wau [Bahr el-Ghazal]); the
terrain is known much better by the insurgency groups than Khartoum’s
regular forces, meaning that the "military" campaign is likely to remain
what it has been for the past few months: a concerted effort to destroy
the civilians who are perceived by the regime as the base of support for
the SLA and the JEM. The primary military weapon will necessarily be
the unconstrained predations of Khartoum’s Arab militia forces.

As racially- and ethnically-targeted civilian destruction accelerates,
the racial animus only increases on both sides in the conflict, with the
African tribal groups (the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masseleit, and others) more
and more convinced that the destruction is directed at them because of
who they are ("as such," to use the all too appropriate phrase from the
1948 UN Convention on Genocide). In fact, Khartoum encourages that
belief with the tactics it encourages in its Arab militia allies (the
Janjaweed), whose racially motivated civilian attacks have been so
thoroughly chronicled by Amnesty International, the International Crisis
Group, and, with ever greater frequency, news reporters near the
Chad-Sudan border.


There is very little time to rescue either the deeply endangered
Naivasha peace process---or the many hundreds of thousands of civilians
trapped in Darfur and unable to seek refuge westward in Chad. For what
is evident from the recent geography of Khartoum’s attacks on civilians
and military resistance is that the regime is attempting to shut down,
as much as possible, any westward movement by the 1,000,000 people the
UN now estimates have been displaced by conflict inside Darfur. Indeed,
Khartoum has shamelessly attempted to encourage refugees in Chad to
return to Sudan---the very refugees that the UN has chosen to move
further into Chad to insure their safety from further cross-border raids
by Khartoum’s militia forces (UN News Centre [New York], February 9,

These 1,000,000 people are consequently trapped inside Darfur, with
exceedingly little humanitarian access. The UN’s IRIN reported
yesterday on very substantially increased numbers in some of the large
camps for displaced persons to which there is still tenuous access; for
example, in Kutum the number has risen from 38,000 in November to over
60,000 at present (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February
9, 2004). They are part of the larger number---3.5 million---that the
UN now estimates are "war-affected." With agricultural production
coming to a halt in Darfur, the scale of the human catastrophe seems
likely to move far beyond even the terrifying dimensions now all too
well established.

Even as Khartoum’s bad faith in breaking off the Naivasha talks on
January 25, 2004 is mirrored in recent duplicitous statements about the
lack of need for UN peacekeepers following an agreement, so the regime’s
shameless lies about the military situation in Darfur find their
counterpart in the disingenuous refusal to negotiate humanitarian access
under the auspices of the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
(confirmed by the Centre’s Andy Andrea to Reuters, February 9, 2004).

This is the character of the regime that must be confronted tomorrow by
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder and
his party in Khartoum. There is no evidence that he and the
administration he represents are prepared, morally or politically, for
this critical test---prepared to define a clear deadline for the
Naivasha peace talks or insist upon humanitarian access to Darfur.

The Bush administration is on the brink of failure in Sudan.

Eric Reeves

Smith College , Northampton, MA 01063

413-585-3326 , ereeves@smith.edu

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