Home | News    Tuesday 29 March 2005

Look who’s playing nice with Sudan

By Becky Tinsley and David Alton, The Anniston Star

March 27, 2005 — On April 27, 2004, at the height of the state-sponsored killing in Darfur, British ambassador to Khartoum Ambassador William Patey delivered an official, London-cleared speech on Sudan, saying, "We are, and wish to remain, true friends of Sudan."

Halima Ismail, 42, a widow and mother of 7 children, one of 12,000 displaced persons from various parts of Sudan who have been living in el Fatih, an Internal Displaced Persons camp outside the Sudanese capital, Khartoum Monday, March 21, 2005. (AP).

British trade with Sudan was up 25 percent and set to rise, the ambassador said. The African nation, Patey continued, is "on the threshold of a new era."

In Sudan, a military junta has killed more than 2 million of its own people in the last 20 years because of their skin color and religion. The regime has caused so much terror within its own borders that 6 million people are internally displaced.

The oil-rich dictatorship spends $1 million a day (the same sum it earns from its oil exports) on arms purchases for internal repression. It keeps its black African citizens in such poverty that their roads, housing and hospitals are primitive even by African standards.

So, what can explain Patey’s unseemly enthusiasm?

European oil companies are busy signing deals with the Sudan People’ Liberation Army whose representatives will be governing the south of the country under the recently signed peace deal.

Naturally, the Europeans are not the only ones falling over their principles to be best pals with Khartoum: the South Africans, Chinese, Russians and Malaysians are all salivating over Sudan’s oil reserves. And many of the same nations continue to sell the regime arms.

The U.N. Security Council met in New York Thursday and once more its members deliberately chose to ignore events in Darfur. Instead they voted to send 10,000 peacekeepers to southern Sudan. A cynic might suggest they were protecting their oil interests.

The decision to refer Darfur’s war criminals to an internationally-recognized court, such as the War

Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has once more been deferred until the end of this month.

Observers believe the Security Council is deadlocked on Darfur, and so the diplomatic games are likely to continue while the wretched people of Darfur face their attackers on a daily basis, unprotected, hungry and forgotten.

Meanwhile, the United Nation’s special envoy to Darfur, Jan Egeland, believes 180,000 have died there in the last 18 months. Egeland agrees with the World Health Organization estimate that 10,000 civilians in Darfur die every week.

To make matters worse, the U.N. has announced it is withdrawing staff from parts of Darfur following threats from the Sudan government-backed Janjaweed militia. They join the exodus of other similarly intimidated charities from Darfur.

Five months ago, the Security Council set up a commission to decide whether genocide was happening in Darfur. Conveniently for all those members of the Security Council who have oil interests in Sudan, they decided it wasn’t. However, back in September the then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell determined genocide was indeed occurring, and that the government of Sudan and its proxies, the Janjaweed, were to blame.

In the wake of the U.N. report the U.S. and Canadian governments stood by their earlier determination while the rest of the world has looked away, disinterested.

Seasoned Sudan-watchers point out that the commission was politically compromised from the start because securing peace with the oil-rich south of Sudan remains of paramount importance.

Despite the fact that the Sudanese government continues to bomb its own villages, the international community has again found a way to avoid discussing stopping the bloodshed.

So, while 14 people die every hour in Darfur, we discuss what to do with the people who are murdering them, after the war criminals have finished their business, that is.

For years, Sudan’s skilled soldiers-turned-politicians have run rings around the West during exhaustive peace negotiations to prevent further slaughter in southern Sudan. In the last two decades, Khartoum has actively directed and supported both its own armed forces and militia groups in killing 2 million black, Christian Africans in the south. They have displaced a further 4 million. Khartoum has repeatedly broken promises to the West. Yet, so desperate is the international community that they continue to embrace the Sudanese government as their partners in peace (rather as they cozied up to Slobodan Milosevic in the architect of the destruction of former Yugoslavia).

Under massive pressure from the Bush administration and its Christian backers, the Sudanese have recently begun to retreat, signing a power-sharing deal with the southern rebels. One would assume that rudimentary poker tactics, or the rules of the playground, would dictate that this is the precise moment we should be demanding more from Khartoum, pressuring them to stop the "Rwanda in slow motion," as Darfur is described. But evidently, not many diplomats play cards.

At an international conference in Norway on April 11, Sudan will ask donors to provide $8 billion to rebuild its war-shattered country. Oddly, no one in the international community is suggesting we should attach strings (such as stopping killing civilians in Darfur, and ending impunity) to any payments made to the Sudanese junta.

American taxpayers may ask why our diplomats are so naïve and gullible, or perhaps there is more than oil at stake here after all.

How much worse could the Sudanese regime get? They sheltered Osama Bin Laden for five years, and regularly hosted an annual gathering with guests who made it look like the Davos of terrorism and jihad. Sudan’s National Islamic Front junta is also a strong proponent of pan Arabism that claims all African culture and progress is thanks to its Arab population, and by inference, is nothing to do with the black people who live there.

Sudan has slavery, extreme Sharia law, no free press or freedom of speech, no elections, and the place is crawling with secret police. In addition, virtually every eight-year-old girl is sexually mutilated. All Khartoum lacks is weapons of mass destruction.

If ever there were a candidate for "regime change," surely Sudan qualifies.

So, if apartheid-era South Africa was a pariah state, then why isn’t Sudan? And why aren’t we treating the Sudanese regime in the same way, applying strict sanctions, breaking off aid and economic ties, and throwing them out of international institutions until they stop killing their own citizens?

Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a member of the British Parliament, and former BBC-journalist Becky Tinsley visited Darfur in November. On their return they set up WagingPeace.info, a campaign urging Western governments to put increased pressure on the government of Sudan.