Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 7 August 2004

Stop issuing threats and send aid to Sudan


Leading article, The Independent

LONDON, Aug 07, 2004 — How much longer is the West going to stand by and look on while a humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of people unfolds in Darfur in Western Sudan?

It’s a rhetorical question used by British politicians, and a great deal of the media, to demand instant military intervention. It should be applied to the paucity of western response in providing aid, and protection, directly to the people fleeing the brutality and the destruction by the government- backed Janjaweed Arab fighters in Darfur. To date some 50,000 African villagers are thought to have died and up to a million displaced by the activities of Janjaweed. As the rains now threaten, and disease and starvation take hold, a real humanitarian crisis is in the making.

And yet what is our response in the West? A total of three helicopters provided by the Dutch and a few hundred French soldiers from France’s military contingent in Chad diverted to security duties in the refugee camps along the border. That, and the millions in donations given by ordinary people to the aid agencies, seems to be the total response of the rich to the poor.

Instead the leaders of Europe and America have contented themselves with a torrent of threats and invective against the government in Khartoum. The US Congress has declared what is happening a "genocide" and then promptly departed on holiday for more than a month. Tony Blair has declared that Britain has 5,000 troops standing by and then gone off on his perambulations around the villas of the rich in Barbados and Italy. The European Union has appointed an aid adviser, and indulged in a veritable torrent of angry speeches but has done virtually nothing of practical assistance to the refugees on the ground.

There is a place for pressure on the Sudanese government. All the evidence, as the reports in The Independent amply attest, confirms the view that the Janjaweed are armed, and in many cases given direct and active support, by Khartoum. If the killing is to stop, the Sudanese president, Omar al- Bashir, must be persuaded at the very least to stop aiding the Darfur Arab tribes and additionally do his best to haul them back from their brutal suppression of the African villagers.

But issuing dire demands that Khartoum should disarm the Arab tribes, the West is simply setting up a confrontation which the Sudanese government is bound to reject and which most of the Middle Eastern and African world resent as an another act of imperial intervention.

Fortunately there are some more promising developments over Darfur. The African Union has promised to send 2,000 troops to help secure the border for the refugees. Libya next week will be opening a humanitarian corridor to move aid by land from the Libyan ports to the camps in Chad. The Sudanese government is displaying some signs at least of withdrawing from confrontation with the UN.

The next step is up to the US and Europe. They have the logistical capacity as well as the resources to move aid quickly and effectively to the region. Let them now employ them.

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