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by Wynde Priddy

With 10,000 dead and over a million displaced, the violence in Sudan's remote western region of Darfur has escalated into a crisis that is being compared to the genocide in Rwanda ten years ago. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has vocally espoused this comparison, as has Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and the once-obscure region has exploded into the global headlines.

Annan, addressing the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights in April, spoke about the mistakes of ten years ago, when he was heading the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. "Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide," he said. He also spoke of ending impunity for those responsible for the varied crimes of genocide, including murder, rape and even incitement of genocide by the media. He also announced the appointment of a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. He concluded: "Anyone who embarks on genocide commits a crime against humanity. Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening. Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference. Let us be serious about preventing genocide. Only so can we honor the victims whom we remember today. Only so can we save those who might be victims tomorrow."

But the reality proves not so simple. Darfur was an independent sultanate until 1917, when it was the last region to be incorporated into the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The current conflict there is fueled by ethnic hostility of the local Arabic-speaking pastoral class supported by Khartoum, the capital, toward the diverse indigenous inhabitants of the region, many of whom are sedentary farmers--including the main group, the Fur, and smaller groups such as the Masalit, Berti, Bargu, Bergid, Tama and Tunjur. Other distinct ethnic groups of nomads or peasant farmers occupy the northern and southern areas of the Darfur region, long neglected by the government in Khartoum, leaving them to fight amongst themselves over the limited water supply and ecologically fragile land. The two main rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), took up arms last year, demanding autonomy or independence for the region.

This new wave of violence comes on the heels of a peace agreement for Sudan's more publicized civil war in the south of the country. The attacks on civilians are being perpetrated by a militia movement, the Janjaweed, whose fighters ride into villages on horse and camel, killing, raping and looting, and burning whole villages. Though the Khartoum regime denies control over these militias, the Janjaweed are certainly not denying their pro-government stance. And refugees who have fled into neighboring Chad say Janjaweed raids often follow government aerial bombardments on villages with helicopters and Antonov planes.

The fighting spilled across the border into Chad in early May, when Chad government troops reported a skirmish with the Janjaweed. The acting Defense Minister of Chad, Emmanuel Nadingar, said: "Our forces clashed with the Janjaweed. We lost a commandant... The Chadian government strongly condemns this clash." He was clear on blaming the Sudanese government in the clash: "Every day, our army is tested by the Sudanese army," he added.

The refugees who have fled to Chad have not seen an improvement in living conditions--the refugee camps are overcrowded and with scarce water and food, and the humanitarian crisis escalates every day. Ensuring more hard times to come, many of the displaced farmers will miss the planting season this year, leaving no hope for a harvest on the abandoned farms of Darfur.

The United States has ruled out sending troops into the region. Colin Powell told reporters at the State Department May 5: "There is no army that is going to go in there and put down the insurrection. We have got to use the pressure of the international community on Khartoum." Ironically this statement was made as elite US military units have launched a training program of local government forces in the region--including Chad--as part of the War on Terrorism. The main target of these training missions is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which is said to have links to al-Qaeda. The Salafist group has been implicated in some skirmishes with government troops in Chad (as well as the kidnapping of a group of European tourists in Algeria last year), but this violence pales in comparison to the bloodshed in Darfur.

In another irony, shortly after the training mission began, Chad's main rebel group, the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) claimed to have captured Amari Saifi, leader of the Salafist Group--also known as al-Para because of his training as an Algerian paratrooper. MDJT is offering to turn him over to the US or its allies, but no country has been willing to enter the rebel-held territory without the backing of Chad's government.

The most positive development in the deepening Darfur disaster is the decision by the newly-formed Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union to send a multinational observer mission of 100 military and civilian personnel to the region. The decision was made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the first meeting of the PSC May 25. The European Union has also been somewhat supportive, pressuring the Khartoum regime to call off militias and lifting restrictions on humanitarian agency workers travelling to Darfur. But despite the UN's resounding "Never Again" after hesitance to intervene in Rwanda, the world seems willing to wait and watch as the crisis in Darfur escalates towards genocide.


In Sudan, Militiamen on Horses Uproot a Million, New York Times, May 4, 2004 U.S. Training North Africans to Uproot Terrorists, New York Times, May 11, 2004

UN News Centre, April 7:

CSM, May 25:

ChannelNewsAsia, May 19:

ChannelNewsAsia, May 26:

Sudan Update:

EU Business, May 26:

BBC, May 6:

BBC, May 9:

Reuters, May 28:

AllAfrica, May 25:

AllAfrica, May 26:

See also:

"Exxon, Pentagon and Jihad Target Chad," WW3 REPORT #97:

"Sudan's Other War," WW3 REPORT #96:


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, June 5, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Reprinting permissible with attribution.