Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 5 February 2007

Understanding Chinese President Hu’s business trip to Sudan


Skilled diplomacy leaves the illusion of having responded to genocide in Darfur, yet with no change in the political or diplomatic dynamic---and thus no change in security on the ground

By Eric Reeves

Feb 4, 2007 — To understand just how little was accomplished in halting ongoing genocidal destruction in Darfur during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s much-touted business trip to Khartoum, we need to understand the larger context in which Beijing’s leader arrived. And here we can do no better than to recall the recent words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

“‘We need to be patient in following up this political process as well as the peacekeeping process,’ Ban said in reference to Darfur. ‘Both tracks are moving well at this time, it may take a little longer to have a detailed agreement,’ the former South Korean foreign minister said Wednesday [January 31, 2007].” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Addis Ababa], January 31, 2007)

What is the meaning of Secretary-General Ban’s words? Why, in the context of an unsurpassably urgent need to address disintegrating security for civilians and humanitarians in Darfur and eastern Chad, would he urge “patience”? Is there any evidence that “patience” has been rewarded during the international efforts, now of five months, to secure from Khartoum consent to deploy the robust peace support operation outlined in Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006)? How are Ban’s words here to be squared with comments made the day before, when he declared of efforts to secure access for UN peace support personnel, "‘No more time can be lost. The people of Darfur have waited far too long,’ Ban said. ‘This is just unacceptable’” (Reuters [dateline: Addis Ababa], January 30, 2007)?

The answers lie all too predictably in continuing defiance on the part of Khartoum---in the regime’s obdurate refusal to allow a meaningful international force into Darfur, one that might provide desperately needed civilian and humanitarian security. Khartoum persists in this defiance because it is confident that whatever China’s President Hu found expedient to say, or suggest he might have said during his stay, in the end China will not, under present circumstances, put meaningful diplomatic pressure on the National Islamic Front regime over this “internal matter.”

Indeed, the Khartoum regime’s confidence was conspicuously in evidence during the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa (January 29-30, 2007), where National Islamic Front President Omar al-Bashir was rightly denied the chairmanship of the AU. But largely lost amidst reporting on this important story were the results of al-Bashir’s meeting with Ban Ki-moon, who has tried at least rhetorically to increase Darfur’s profile. A BBC dispatch, from a correspondent traveling with Ban, offers the most detailed account of how badly this meeting went, and why the UN Secretary-General was left following his encounter to ask only for “patience,” despite his declaration prior to the meeting with al-Bashir that "no more time can be lost,” “the people of Darfur have waited far too long,” “this is just unacceptable”:

“For an hour the new secretary general and his top officials---including the head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno---met President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Then, for half an hour, Mr Ban and the Sudanese leader had what the secretary general called a tete-a-tete.” [ ]

“UN officials were hoping ahead of Mr Ban’s meeting with President Bashir that there might be some movement on this key issue---the deployment of the 20,000-strong peacekeeping force. A new secretary general, a new dynamic---perhaps President Bashir will offer something, observed one UN official.”

“In the event, the hour-and-a-half meeting produced little new. The discussions were all about Phase Two, what is known in jargon as the UN heavy support package for the AU troops in Darfur. But that is only 2,250 peacekeepers. On the all-important deployment---the 20,000 strong hybrid force [sic]---the discussions did not even get off the ground.” (BBC [dateline: Addis Ababa], January 31, 2007)

Here we need to recall that although Khartoum denounced UN Security Council Resolution 1706 and declared that it would not accept the authorized force, the regime nonetheless found it expedient to participate in the so-called “High Level Consultation on the Situation in Darfur” (Addis Ababa, November 16, 2006). This was the occasion that allowed Khartoum’s génocidaires to appear to accept an international force, in some respects vaguely like that outlined in Resolution 1706, but with no firm commitments. Indeed, the outcome of this “Consultation” was a “Conclusions” document (not an “agreement,” as has often been disingenuously suggested) that specified very little on the key terms of deployment, most significantly what the BBC refers to correctly as “Phase Three” of the “Conclusions” document.

“Phase Three” is modeled roughly on the assessment of force requirements offered by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN DPKO) in developing recommendations for Resolution 1706---17,300 troops, 3,300 civilian police, and 16 Formed Police Units. This force of approximately 22,500 personnel was to have had a robust mandate for civilian and humanitarian protection, as well as authority to establish a “multi-dimensional presence consisting of political, humanitarian, military and civilian police officers in key locations in Chad [and] in Central African Republic.” But of “Phase Three” the Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document says only that “the strength of the peacekeeping [sic] force should be 17,000 and 3,000 police” (Paragraph 31). And even this “should” is held hostage to the key escape clause upon which Khartoum insisted:

“A hybrid operation [NB: not a “hybrid force”---ER] (Phase 3) is also agreed in principle, pending clarification of the size of the force” (Paragraph 28). But “clarification of the size of the force” has meant, over the course of the past two and a half months, Khartoum’s refusal to accept either the size of force specified in the “Conclusions” document, or even that the adjective “hybrid” refers to a UN/AU “force.” The regime continues to cleave insistently, at the highest levels, to the notion that a “hybrid operation” does not entail deployment of any non-AU forces---merely UN logistical, technical, and financial assistance.

This was the import of comments last week by two very senior NIF Presidential advisors, Nafie Ali Nafie and Majzoub al-Khalifa. Reuters reports al-Khalifa declaring (January 29, 2007) that, “‘We have agreed on a hybrid [AU/UN] operation not a hybrid force’” ([dateline: Khartoum], January 29, 2007). The February 1, 2007 UN Bulletin for Sudan reports that,

“On 31 January [2007], local media reported that Presidential Assistant Nafie [Ali Nafie] reiterated Government of Sudan rejection of any form of what he described as ‘evil’ colonization, saying that the Government of Sudan will categorically refuse deployment of foreign troops regardless of the helmet they wear. The statement was made during his visit to Kabkabiya, North Darfur.”

These two comments, one for international the other for domestic consumption, are entirely consistent with remarks coming from the most senior members of the National Islamic Front for months now, including from President al-Bashir.

Indeed, discussion between Ban Ki-moon and al-Bashir at the recent AU summit in Addis (January 29-30, 2007) never moved to a discussion of either the size or nature of the Phase 3 security force in Darfur---the large and critical element of the peace support operation that would be of a “hybrid” nature. As the BBC reports and others confirm:

“The discussions [in Addis Ababa between Ban and al-Bashir] were all about Phase Two, what is known in jargon as the UN heavy support package for the AU troops in Darfur. But that is only 2,250 peacekeepers. On the all-important deployment---the 20,000 strong hybrid force [sic]---the discussions did not even get off the ground.”

To make matters worse, reliable sources report that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations now contemplates only a May/June deployment for these Phase Two elements (the current Phase One support package amounts to only approximately 200 advisory and technical UN personnel, the so-called “light support package”).

In other words, the security dynamic on the ground in Darfur---the critical issue for some 4.5 million conflict-affected persons in the greater humanitarian theater of Darfur and eastern Chad---remains unchanged, indeed continues to deteriorate, even as the international community cannot find the will to bring pressure to bear that would ensure access for a force that can actually protect civilians and the increasingly fragile humanitarian lifeline upon which they depend.


This is the context in which to understand how the issue of Darfur was apparently raised during Chinese President Hu’s business trip to Khartoum. Wire reports on the visit have come from a range of sources. Perhaps of most significance is the dispatch from China’s state-controlled Xinhuanet: here we know we are getting what amounts to Beijing’s official word on the meeting between President’s Hu and al-Bashir. But let us examine seriatim what has been reported:

Reuters, on the basis of an uncharacterized source, reports that, “Hu told Bashir ‘Darfur is a part of Sudan and you have to resolve this problem,’ said the source, declining to be named” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 2, 2007).

Even if we accept this at face value, and as coming from an official regime source, it is difficult to see how this puts additional pressure on Khartoum. For of course the regime continues to insist that it is working hard to resolve the “problem” of Darfur, even as it also continues with its large military offensive, its indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in rebel-held areas, and its re-mobilizing and heavy re-arming of the Janjaweed. Khartoum also continues to assert that peace has been largely secured in Darfur, and that if only non-signatory rebels groups would sign the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006), peace would be achieved and the Darfur “problem” resolved.

This is one reason that Khartoum continues to insist that the phrase “Darfur Peace Agreement” be included in every document it commits to. The phrase appears a dozen times in the brief “Conclusions” document of the November 16, 2006 “High Level Consultation” in Addis (subsequently ratified by the AU Peace and Security Commission two weeks later in Abuja). The phrase even appears in the absurd “cease-fire agreement” negotiated by US presidential aspirant Bill Richardson, along with the Save Darfur Coalition and its naïve diplomatic emissary, former Ambassador to Croatia Lawrence Rossin. The phrase appears yet again in the December 23, 2006 letter from President al-Bashir to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

There can be no mistaking the import of this insistent cleaving to a document that was signed by only one rebel faction, and certainly the least representative---that of Minni Minawi, now thoroughly sidelined in Khartoum despite nominally serving as the fourth-ranking member of the Presidency in the “Government of National Unity.” The Darfur Peace Agreement could hardly be less responsive to the key demands of Darfuris, especially on matters of security.

Another and more revealing account of the Hu visit to Khartoum comes from a still unnamed source in an Associated Press dispatch:

“Chinese President Hu Jintao urged Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir on Friday to work harder to bring more Darfur rebels into the peace process, a Sudanese official told The Associated Press. Hu raised the issue at a closed-door meeting during the Chinese leader’s landmark visit, the first ever by a Chinese president. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Hu told al-Bashir his ‘government should work more earnestly to get the rebels who did not sign the Darfur peace agreement to join the peace process.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], February 2, 2007)

If this is the extent of Hu’s “pressuring” Khartoum, the regime could hardly have asked for more, and indeed this might well provide the motive for a strategic “leak.” For the regime would like nothing more than to re-engage the non-signatory rebels groups, particularly the militarily potent Group of 19, in another endless round of peace talks, with the Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006) as its stipulated starting point. Khartoum has made publicly clear that it would welcome such talks, which would provide diplomatic cover for ongoing genocide by attrition on the ground in Darfur. So long as China did not pressure the regime on allowing an effective, international peace support operation, both regimes achieve their diplomatic goals: China is hoping to be perceived as having engaged on the high-profile issue of Darfur; Khartoum has been enjoined, without criticism, to do what it wishes to do in any event.

We should hardly be surprised that Associated Press also reports, “After the closed door meeting, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol insisted Sudan and China were ‘in complete agreement’ over Darfur. ‘We don’t need any Chinese pressure on Darfur, because we all agree,’ he told reporters.” As Agence France-Presse reports, the expediency of the November 16, 2006 Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document lives on: “Turning to Darfur, Akol told reporters: ‘The two sides agreed to support the Addis Ababa agreement’” ([dateline: Khartoum], February 2, 2007).

This represents the most perverse of “win-win” situations, with the people of Darfur and courageous humanitarian organizations on the ground the conspicuous losers.

The most comprehensive report on what Hu stressed in his meeting with al-Bashir comes from Xinhuanet, a generally unreliable, state-controlled news source that nonetheless on this occasion may be of significance because of how closely it is reporting on how Beijing wishes the Hu/al-Bashir meeting to be perceived, both in Sudan and in the international community.

“Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday put forward a four-point principle for the concerned parties to observe in the pursuit of a solution to the Darfur issue. During the talks with his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir in Khartoum, Hu said that China appreciates efforts by the Sudanese government, the African Union, the Arab League, the United Nations and countries concerned to solve the Darfur issue, and hopes that the issue could be solved as soon as possible. He said China believes that it is imperative to observe the following four principles in the pursuit of a solution to the Darfur issue:

“The first principle is to respect Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said, adding that the settlement of the issue should be helpful for Sudan’s reconciliation process, its national unity, and regional peace and stability.”

Since Khartoum continues to assert national sovereignty as a means of forestalling the deployment of international forces to Darfur, this cornerstone Chinese “principle” is the context in which to understand the other three “principles.” Notably, China says nothing about the principle of a “responsibility to protect,” framed in the UN World Summit “Outcome Document” (September 2005) specifically so as to supersede claims of national sovereignty when civilians are unprotected from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” China voted with all other UN Security Council members to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (April 2006), thereby declaring itself,

"prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law.”

China will pick and choose which “principles” will guide its actions because it is fundamentally unprincipled, indeed committed only to a brutal, if diplomatically sophisticated Realpolitik.

The “second principle” articulated by the Chinese amounts to a re-formulating of the first principle:

“The second principle is to solve the issue by peaceful means and by sticking to dialogue and coordination based on equality.”

This is a “principle” so vague as to be susceptible of many interpretations; but certainly one way of understanding “peaceful means” is as a code phrase for no humanitarian intervention in Darfur, no matter how massively destructive the genocide might become in the wake of humanitarian withdrawal. “Sticking to dialogue” might also be understood as a code phrase for no resort to international pressures, whether in the form of sanctions or military actions. Though the most opaque of all the phrases deployed here, “based on equality” is probably meant to suggest that all nations are equal, and therefore no nation has the right to interfere in the affairs of another, no matter what the nature of international crimes being committed.

As reported by Xinhuanet, Hu’s “third principle” is not really a principle so much as an abstract and strategically vague exhortation. Certainly it does nothing to suggest that Beijing has pressured Khartoum on composition of the so-called “hybrid operation”:

“It is imperative for the parties concerned to take into consideration the overall situation and from a long-term perspective, respect and address each other’s reasonable concerns, and seek shared interests through dialogue in order to find out a just solution, he said. Hu went on to say that the African Union and the United Nations should play constructive roles in a peacekeeping mission in Darfur, adding that wisdom and creativity should be employed in order to improve the efficiency of the peacekeeping mission to create favorable conditions for achieving peace in the region. China supports the process of seeking a political solution to the issue,’ Hu said.”

Nothing to discomfit Khartoum’s génocidaires here: indeed, such language is so unthreatening that it actually gives the regime something to point to in public statements. And by refusing to characterize in any way the role of the UN, or more broadly non-AU forces, in a peace support operation in Darfur, the Chinese have made it harder to persuade Khartoum that it must accept any part of a Phase Three deployment that extends beyond technical, logistical, and financial roles for the UN.

The fourth principle is the vaguest and least consequential of all; again, it is not so much a “principle” as an expedient means of putting China on record as caring about the people of Darfur, and perhaps urging Khartoum to be more discreet in its continuing obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of humanitarian workers and operations:

“The fourth principle is that it is imperative to improve the [humanitarian] situation in Darfur and living conditions of local people, [Hu] said.”

As reported by Reuters, Associated Press, and Xinhuanet, Hu’s visit has done nothing to change the larger diplomatic dynamic that presently obstructs actions to strengthen security on the ground in Darfur.


And with the diplomatic difficulty so thoroughly and deftly finessed (Hu of course made no public mention of Darfur), the real issues could be addressed. Perhaps most revealingly, Hu promised to build génocidaire-in-chief Omar al-Bashir a new Presidential Palace, perhaps a permanent refuge from the reaches of the International Criminal Court, which is scheduled to announce indictments this month of those most responsible for the atrocity crimes in Darfur. No credible investigation can fail to indict al-Bashir, but there are many indications that chief ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is politically too wary to speak such truth to power.

China lavished other commercial and economic benefits on the Khartoum-dominated economy, and solidified a bilateral trade relationship (exceeding $3 billion annually) that was summarized in a number of news-wire dispatches:

“China is the biggest foreign investor in Sudan and buys two-thirds of the country’s oil exports. It has used its veto-wielding status at the UN Security Council to prevent harsh measures against Sudan over the Darfur conflict.”

“After fanfare and a red-carpet welcome at the Khartoum airport, the two leaders drove to Khartoum’s multimillion dollar China-sponsored Friendship Hall overlooking the Nile, close to a new bridge under construction, also funded by Beijing. There, the presidents and cabinet ministers signed several partnership accords on China building two schools, a new presidential palace, knocking off taxes on Sudanese exports, as well as a $12 million loan and a $5.1 million grant to Sudan. China also canceled a portion of previous Sudanese debt, but the figure involved was not immediately known.” [ ]

“The Sudanese economy grew by 12 percent last year according to the International Monetary Fund. Chinese investment has largely contributed to boost production of the country’s prime resource---oil---which has risen to an output of 500,000 barrels a day. China is also funding large projects such as the $1.8 billion Merowe hydroelectric complex.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], February 2, 2007)

It should be noted that the Merowe Dam project is arguably the most environmentally irresponsible large-scale construction project in the world today, and has entailed the violent (and uncompensated) removal of large numbers of people from the project area. China’s own dam-construction behavior domestically is perfectly in keeping with what was reported in March 2006 by the International Rivers Network:

“In a report published today [March 23, 2006], the US-based International Rivers Network (IRN) calls on the companies that are developing the [Merowe Dam] project---China’s CCMD Consortium, Alstom, Lahmeyer International, and ABB---to suspend project construction until the environmental impacts have been adequately addressed.”

“The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Merowe Dam in Sudan, the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa, is of poor quality and does not address many of the project’s potential impacts on the environment.”

“These are the main findings of an independent review of the EIA which was just published by EAWAG, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. The main conclusions of the EAWAG review are: poor quality EIA, the strong fluctuations will erode the river banks, making it difficult for farmers to collect water and fish in the river and reservoir, sedimentation will seriously diminish the capacity of the project to generate electricity, the dam will block fish migration. Regarding water quality and health ‘the pollution and the decomposition of organic matter may create public health hazards for people drinking water or eating fish from the reservoir’ the report said.” (Sudan Tribune [dateline: London], March 23, 2006)

Needless to say, electricity generated by the dam will benefit few outside of the Khartoum area: there are few if any connections to a national electrical grid in the marginalized areas of Sudan, and none to southern Sudan. In short, this is China’s kind of project, and one that reflects Beijing’s indifference to the consequences of investment in the Khartoum-dominated economy. Here we should recall that the same was true of the disastrous Jonglei Canal project, begun with Egyptian backing in the years before the second phase of the north/south civil war, and on the verge of completion when the war resumed in 1983.


Certainly a refusal to “intervene in other countries’ affairs” does not preclude China from making large-scale weapons sales for purposes of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency warfare, as human rights groups have reported for many years. Amnesty International offered a recent brief overview of this deadly trade in its November 2006 appeal on the eve of the Africa/China summit held in Beijing:

“Arms deliveries from China to Sudan since the 1990s have included ammunition, tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft. The Sudanese government and militias it has supported have used such types of weapons to commit massive violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in armed conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur. Such violations have included direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian settlements, which have caused deaths and mass forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Planes and helicopters have been used to launch aerial bombings on villages; for reconnaissance before attacks; and to support ground troops in the armed conflict in southern Sudan until 2002 and in the war in Darfur from 2003 up to now. Planes and helicopters have also been used to transfer troops and arms to areas of conflict.”

“In the 1990s, China reportedly sold aircraft including helicopters to Sudan. In 1996, China was said to have supplied Z-6 helicopters, manufactured by Changhe Aircraft Industries and designed to carry troops. In 2001, the Harbin Dongan Engine Manufacturing Company (Harbin) performed repairs on Mi-8 helicopter engines for various governments including those of Pakistan and Sudan. Mi-8 helicopters are commonly used for transporting troops, but variants also carry a range of weapon systems. Although transport helicopters may not carry rockets and missiles, they have been used to ferry troops to areas in which fighting is taking place or where atrocities have been carried out against civilians.”

“China has also sold military trucks produced by the Chinese company Dong Feng to the Sudanese government. Dong Feng produces a range of military vehicles. It exports under the name Dongfeng Aeolus. Its EQ2081/2100 series of military trucks have reportedly been a popular carrier vehicle of the Chinese armed forces.”

“In Sudan in August 2005, the UN Panel of Experts on the Sudan established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1591 (2005), which was investigating violations of the international arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Darfur, documented a shipment of green Dong Feng military trucks in the Port of Sudan. ‘New green trucks of a similar type were also seen on the Sudanese air force premises in Darfur in October.’”
(Amnesty International, “Sudan/China: Appeal by Amnesty International to the Chinese government on the occasion of the China-Africa Summit for Development and Cooperation,” [AI Index AFR 54/072/2006], November 2006)

Human Rights Watch has also extensively documented the arms trade between Khartoum and Beijing going back over the past decade.

Moreover, what is not usually noted is the extensive weapons engineering and manufacturing expertise that the Chinese have provided to Khartoum---so extensive that the regime now is largely self-sufficient in small- and medium-sized arms.

In short, China---knowing full well the enormous civilian destruction consequent upon such an arms trade---unhesitatingly continues to put profits before human lives in Sudan. Of course many are involved in the obscene international weapons trade; but China has made its own highly distinctive mark in Darfur and the oil regions of southern Sudan.


Almost without missing a beat, Ban Ki-moon has continued the disingenuous ways of speaking about Darfur that defined the tenure of the preceding Secretary-General. Certainly Ban’s recent comments about security in Darfur and the status of peace negotiations are a suspiciously indirect way of conveying the nature of Khartoum’s obdurate refusal to comply with the terms of Resolution 1706 or even the spirit of the Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document:

“‘We need to be patient in following up this political process as well as the peacekeeping process,’ Ban said in reference to Darfur. ‘Both tracks are moving well at this time, it may take a little longer to have a detailed agreement,’ the former South Korean foreign minister said Wednesday [January 31, 2007].” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Addis Ababa], January 31, 2007)

What, we might wonder, is Ban referring to? Which political process is “moving well” and requires only a bit more patience---“a little longer to have a detailed agreement”? What agreement? Negotiated by whom? Certainly the non-signatory rebels on the ground would be bewildered by Ban’s comments: every time that these commanders, especially those of the so-called Group of 19, attempt to meet in order to fashion a united diplomatic and negotiating front, Khartoum attempts to bomb them with its Antonov aircraft. Does Ban, or those in the UN Secretariat, bother to read the reports from the African Union in the field? ---

“The African Union has confirmed Sudan’s army bombed two villages in North Darfur, violating ceasefire agreements and jeopardising efforts to revive a stalled peace process. [ ] In the first independent confirmation of rebel reports that the government bombarded their positions in Anka and Korma on January 16 and 19, [2007] the AU condemned the attacks. ‘The (AU) ceasefire commission is once again calling on all parties to refrain from any activities that will jeopardize the peace process,’ the statement sent late on Monday [January 22, 2007] said.”

“Rebels are trying to hold a conference in Darfur to unify their position ahead of a renewed push for peace talks. They want government guarantees that the conference will not be attacked, but the army has three times bombed rebel positions in the past two months, the AU says.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 23, 2007)

Earlier (January 21, 2007) Reuters had reported the comments of rebel commander Jar el-Naby, perhaps the most principled of those fighting in the Group of 19 faction of what was formerly the SLA:

“Rebel commander Jar el-Neby also accused the government of bombing. ‘They bombed for about five hours (on Saturday [January 20, 2007]),’ he said. ‘I think they are trying to stop our commanders’ conference.’ Rebel commanders want to hold a conference in Darfur to unite their positions ahead of peace talks. There are more than a dozen rebel factions. Rebels say they want guarantees the army will not attack or bomb their meeting.”

What political process is Ban referring to?

And again, the deployment of security forces to Darfur---forces that might actually improve security for civilians and humanitarian operations---is no further advanced than it was months ago. If disagreements still focus on Phase Two of the plan sketched incompletely in the Addis “Conclusions” document---and if the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is willing to countenance an exceedingly dilatory time-frame for deployment of Phase Two forces (May/June)---then honesty demands much more than Secretary-General Ban has offered. Indeed, we must wonder just how committed to an honest assessment of Darfur Ban really is.

Certainly the “patience” he counsels seems grotesquely inappropriate, given the accelerating security crisis. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that last month alone another 25,000 human being were added to the list of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur (more fled to eastern Chad). Threats to humanitarians also continue to escalate, and the consequences have recently been particularly notable. Associated Press reports from Khartoum (January 29, 2007):

“A leading French aid group said Monday [January 29, 2007] it was pulling out of Darfur because the violence in the western Sudan region posed too high a risk to its workers. Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, has ‘suspended its activities in Darfur for an undetermined period of time,’ said the group’s director of international missions, Eric Chevallier, in a phone interview. ‘The balance between the help we were able to provide and the risks our staff were taking had reached breaking point,’ Chevallier said.” [ ]

“The French aid group has begun pulling out more than a dozen international aid workers and some 200 Sudanese nationals working in the region, its international director said. ‘It’s a very difficult decision, and we hope we will be able to go back in when security improves,’ said Chevallier. The aid group had been assisting some 90,000 refugees in the Kalma refugee camp of South Darfur, and had operated a mobile clinic treating about 30,000 people in remote villages in the Jebel Marra mountains where there was an outbreak of cholera last year.”

Just as disturbing is a recent violent assault on aid workers in Nyala (capital of South Darfur) by Khartoum’s local “police” thugs. The viciousness of the attack speaks volumes about the regime’s attitudes towards a humanitarian presence in Darfur:

“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)

In the camp at Gereida, now the largest camp in the world for Internally Displaced Persons, the extremely violent and threatening attack of late December 2006 has produced a near collapse in humanitarian presence. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only remaining humanitarian organization, reports from Geneva (January 28, 2007):

“The consequences in humanitarian terms of the recent security incident in Gereida and the subsequent evacuation of aid personnel are beginning to show. Camp residents have at most two weeks of food left and are already worried. The maintenance of water-supply systems is another concern, along with sewage disposal and hygiene promotion. The link between food, hygiene and safe water is so close that neglecting any of these areas can have a direct impact on people’s health.”

Six humanitarian aid organizations, operating or formerly operating in Darfur, issued an extraordinarily dire warning on January 30, 2007, declaring that the “enormous humanitarian response in Darfur will soon be paralysed unless African and global leaders at the AU Summit take urgent action to end rising violence against civilians and aid workers.” Of course no such action was taken---Ban Ki-moon instead urges “patience”--- and organizations such as Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, CARE International, Oxfam International, Norwegian Refugee Council, World Vision are left to declare that,

“African Heads of State and the new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will fail the people of Darfur if they do not take concrete steps to herald the start of a new chapter in the region and ensure an immediate ceasefire is both agreed and adhered to.”

“The six agencies---Action Against Hunger, CARE International, Oxfam International, Norwegian Refugee Council, World Vision and Save the Children---said aid workers are facing violence on a scale not seen before in Darfur, leaving access to people in need at the conflict’s lowest point at a time when the humanitarian need is greater than ever. Attacks on civilians are again rising and forcing even more people to flee their homes, and a breakdown of the aid response will leave millions in even greater danger. The worsening four-year-old crisis must not be allowed to deteriorate any further.” [ ]

“More than a month after an attack on aid workers in Gereida---the most violent of the conflict so far, which saw staff raped, beaten and subjected to mock executions---it is still far too dangerous for agencies to return to the camp, the world’s largest for displaced people, where 130,000 have sought refuge from attacks on their villages.”

“Temporary evacuations of staff from other locations across Darfur have continued, with nearly 500 aid workers withdrawn since the start of December. In early January, the UN warned that malnutrition rates are again rising close to emergency levels. Progress made in stabilizing conditions over the past four years is in serious danger of being reversed.” (allAfrica.com, January 30, 2007, at http://allafrica.com/stories/200701300918.html)

What precisely are we waiting for, Secretary-General Ban?


Two important new human rights reports, from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, offer the grimmest assessment to date of how the ethnically-targeted human destruction in Darfur continues to spread into eastern Chad and the Central African Republic, with devastating consequences.

[Human Rights Watch, “‘They Came Here to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Target of Civilians in Eastern Chad,” Volume 19, No. 1[A], January 2007, at http://hrw.org/reports/2007/chad0107/chad0107web.pdf)

Amnesty International, “Chad: ‘Are we citizens of this country?’---Civilians in Chad unprotected from Janjawid attacks,” January 29, 2007, at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR200012007]

The titles alone suggest just how continuous these reports are with previous findings. The Introduction to the Amnesty report serves to make the primary point about the consequences of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency war in Darfur:

“Homes ablaze. Villagers slaughtered. Women and girls raped. Survivors scattered in terror. Civilians in eastern Chad are sharing the cruel fate of their neighbours in Darfur, hostages to Sudan’s ruthless solution to rebel attacks in the region. The Janjawid militias who in recent years have laid to waste vast areas of western Sudan, form the backbone of the armed groups who are killing, tormenting and displacing civilians from targeted ethnic groups such as the Dajo and the Masalit in eastern Chad. The aim of the attacks appears to be to clear vast areas of communities primarily identified by the Janjawid as ‘African’ rather than ‘Arab,’ and to drive them further from the border with Sudan.”

“In Darfur, since 2003, the Sudanese government continues to use its proxy militia, the Janjawid to terrorize, kill and forcibly displace civilians perceived to be the support base of the armed opposition movements. The government funds and arms the Janjawid, who are notorious for their cruelty and ferocity. Janjawid operations, in coordination with the Sudanese army and air force, deliberately target and attack particular ethnic groups and drive them from their villages. These attacks continue notwithstanding the presence of African Union peacekeeping troops. [ ] Now, in eastern Chad too, a similar dynamic is evolving. Sudanese Janjawid and their local Chadian allies are plundering and killing with impunity.”

The humanitarian implications of this violence are captured in a dispatch from the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) Net, “Emergency Alert for Chad” (January 30, 2007):

“Food security in Chad is deteriorating for many internally displaced persons (IDPs) and surrounding host populations. Continued reports of cross-border attacks from Sudan and increased inter-ethnic violence within Chad have thwarted Government-led efforts to assist in the return of some IDPs, amplified IDP numbers, and spurred new movements of these displaced populations. Increased humanitarian needs due to the continued rising numbers of IDPs come at a time when the East’s unstable security environment (UN Phase IV security status) has limited humanitarian access, stalled implementation of some food for work and school feeding safety nets, and inhibited local populations from accessing market gardens and other sources of income diversification.”

“As the number of displaced populations increase, so too do demands on the surrounding environment. Tensions between displaced populations and host communities are reportedly increasing as people vie for limited supplies of water, pasture and firewood. Continued civil insecurity and displacement also threaten to disrupt agricultural activities for the upcoming 2007 season.”

And though much less is heard or reported about the fate of civilians in the Central African Republic, we catch terrifying glimpses of what may be another vast killing field, with much evidence of Khartoum’s complicity:

“Northeastern areas of the Central African Republic are seeing more ethnically-driven attacks and torched villages in signs the war in Sudan’s neighboring Darfur region increasingly is spilling over the border, the United Nations said on Friday [January 26, 2007]. A UN assessment team sent this month to the isolated area estimates that violence targeting civilians there has driven about 40,000 of the area’s 200,000 residents from their homes.”

“A major problem is residents’ fear of reprisals linked to ongoing fighting between Central African Republic forces and armed opposition groups, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Armed raiders regularly loot villages and terrorize civilians in the remote and lawless area near the border with both Chad and Sudan. But the problem has worsened significantly in 2006, the UN office said.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], January 26, 2007)

Regional diplomatic and UN sources speak of an abundance of evidence linking Khartoum to the “armed raiders” referred to in this dispatch.


Ban Ki-moon’s defeatist counsel of “patience” will of course seem incomprehensible to the people of Darfur, people who have in some cases waited almost four years for the international community to provide them with the security that will allow them to return to their homes, or the burned out remains of their villages, and attempt to resume agriculturally productive lives. But instead of such returns, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recently warned (Geneva, January 30, 2007) that ongoing violence and insecurity has “erased the prospects” of return for the more than 2.5 million Internally Displaced Persons and refugees in Chad:

“There is no prospect of return for internally displaced people in Darfur, nor for the more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees hosted in eastern Chad, UN High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva.” (Reuters [dateline: Geneva], January 30, 2007)

Will Ban Ki-moon travel to the camps for displaced persons and dare to urge “patience” upon these long-suffering people? Will he survey life in these ghastly human warehouses, and the terrifying threats that surround them, and still ask for “patience”?

But even such counsel, proceeding mainly from weakness, is no doubt preferred by Darfuris who have been so relentlessly and profoundly betrayed by those with the power to provide them meaningful security. Indeed, we may be sure that informed people in Darfur are even more incensed by the posturing of powerful figures such as the UK’s Lord Triesman, British minister in charge of African affairs, who recently made yet another vacuous promise on behalf of the Blair government:

“Britain sent a strongly-worded warning to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, urging him to accept the deployment of hybrid [AU/UN] peacekeeping force in Darfur or else Khartoum will face unspecified coercive measures. Lord Triesman, the British minister in charge of African affairs told BBC Arabic that the world will not stand still while atrocities occur in Darfur.” (reported by Wasil Ali in The Sudan Tribune [dateline: London], February 3, 2007)

“The world will not stand still while atrocities occur in Darfur,” Lord Triesman? What shocking mendacity, what contemptible moralizing, what viciously political posturing. The world has, precisely, for nearly four long years, “stood still while atrocities have occurred in Darfur.” No doubt it is convenient for Lord Triesman to forget Britain’s own disgraceful immobility over these many, many months; but let us call to memory a few moments for the “minister in charge of African affairs.”

The Independent (UK) reported on December 26, 2004 what was noted in peculiarly muted terms at the time: “General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the Army, said in August [2004] that the Army could find a brigade of troops [5,000 soldiers] for a humanitarian mission to Darfur.” Nothing came of this offer; it simply disappeared amidst political and moral cowardice.

In April 2005, then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described what was occurring in Darfur as “genocide”---presumably the “atrocity” before which it is least acceptable to “stand still. And still there was no change in British policy toward Khartoum.

In May 2006, Tony Blair declared that a non-existent Darfur peacemaking force must have “sufficient firepower” to guarantee the feeble accord signed that month in Abuja, and that “Britain and the US, with other NATO partners, [are] looking at the issue urgently to see what more could be done” (see my “International powers are talking about urgent action to enforce peace. But where are the troops?” The Guardian [on-line], May 15, 2006). In the event, of course, Blair’s words meant nothing.

And this past October, with his legacy evidently much on his mind, Blair was reported to be ordering plans drawn up for a force of “at least 1,000 troops to play a core role in an international protection force [in Darfur]” (Scotland on Sunday [UK], October 8, 2006):

“The Prime Minister has signalled his intention to back up his demands for international intervention to prevent ‘genocide’ in Darfur by sending a large British force to help protect the black African population.” [ ]

“Blair is continuing to press for the move as a gesture of intent, particularly amid the continuing failure of the international community to agree on a multi-national force---and the Sudanese government’s refusal to accept any intervention.”

And now, almost four months later, we have Lord Triesman declaring that “the world will not stand still while atrocities occur in Darfur”---as if this hadn’t been precisely British policy toward Darfur since the outbreak of major insurgency fighting four years ago, during which time “atrocities” beyond any possible reckoning have occurred on a massive scale and a daily basis.

But of course such contemptibly empty words, such profound disingenuousness, are no special feature of British policy toward Darfur, as Khartoum is well aware. And in the emptiness and mendacity and expediency of the world’s response to Darfur, the regime receives precisely the encouragement that leaves Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with no choice but to urge upon Darfur’s long-suffering people, of all virtues, “patience.”

It will be, for many hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, the patience of the dead.

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org

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