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Darfur conflict

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The Darfur conflict is an ongoing (as of 2004) conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, mainly between the Janjaweed, a Sudanese-government-supported armed militia recruited from local Arab tribes, and the non-Arab peoples of the region. The conflict has been widely described as "ethnic cleansing", and not infrequently as "genocide". As of September 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 50,000 deaths in Darfur since the conflict's beginning, mostly by starvation; in October, its head gave an estimate of 71,000 deaths by starvation and disease alone [1] . More than 1.2 million people had been displaced from their homes. 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. The refugees include non-Arab victims of non-Arabs, Arab victims of non-Arabs, and even Arab victims of Arabs; however, the large majority are non-Arab black Africans fleeing Janjaweed attacks [2] . The UN, prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake called the Darfur conflict, the world's worst current humanitarian crisis.


Origins of the conflict

Darfur is inhabited by a variety of peoples, generally constituting two distinct groups: non-Arab black African peoples such as the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa , and Arab tribes collectively termed Baggara (also black by the standards of most English-speakers), who settled the region from about the 13th century onwards. Both groups are Muslims. However, relations between the two groups have long been tense; the pre-colonial Fur kingdom regularly clashed with the Baggara, particularly the Rizeigat . Moreover, before the 20th century (and by some accounts well into it) Darfur was a centre of the slave trade, and Fur slavers competed with Arab ones to raid the nearby Bahr el Ghazal to obtain slaves for the coastal regions. The two groups also have differing economic needs, which has led to clashes: the Fur and Masalit are primarily sedentary farmers, while the Arabs and Zaghawa are nomadic herdsmen, which has brought them into conflict over access to land and water resources.

The government of Sudan has had a strongly Arab character since the country's independence in 1956; it has been a military dictatorship since 1958. The first civil war, First Sudanese Civil War , between the Muslim government and the mostly non-Muslim African population of the southern Sudan started in 1955 and continued until 1972. The Addis Ababa Accords were reached then and there was peace. In 1983, the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out when the president declared Shari’a law in the south. A ceasefire was declared in 2002. Peace talks in 2003 produced an agreement under which state revenues — oil money in particular — would be shared between the government and the southern rebel groups.

The agreement did not, however, satisfy Darfur campaigners' demands for a fairer deal for the region's population. Two local rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) — accused the government of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. The SLA is generally associated with the Fur and Masalit, while the JEM is associated with the Zaghawa of the northern half of this province.

Hassan al-Turabi was put in jail in March 2004 in connection with an alleged coup plot linked with JEM[3] [4] , but denies supporting JEM[5] , although he blames the government for "aggravating the situation." The government dropped charges on December 3, 2004.

Course of the conflict

The conflict began in early 2003 when JEM and SLA rebels attacked government forces and installations. The government, caught by surprise, had very few troops in the region, and — since a large proportion of the Sudanese soldiers were of Darfur origin — distrusted many of its own units; its response was to mount a campaign of aerial bombardment supporting ground attacks by an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, recruited from local tribes and armed by the government. While the conflict has a political basis, it has also acquired an ethnic dimension in which civilians were deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and an economic dimension related to the competition between pastoralists (generally Arab) and farmers (generally non-Arab) for land and water.

In 2004, Chad brokered negotiations in N'Djamena, leading to the April 8 Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement between the Sudanese government and JEM and SLA. A group splintered from the JEM in April — the National Movement for Reform and Development — which did not participate in the April cease-fire talks or agreement. Janjaweed and rebel attacks have continued since the ceasefire. The African Union (AU) formed a Ceasefire Commission (CFC) to monitor observance of the April ceasefire.

A United Nations observer team reported that non-Arab villages were singled out while Arab villages were left untouched:

The 23 Fur villages in the Shattaya Administrative Unit have been completely depopulated, looted and burnt to the ground (the team observed several such sites driving through the area for two days). Meanwhile, dotted alongside these charred locations are unharmed, populated and functioning Arab settlements. In some locations, the distance between a destroyed Fur village and an Arab village is less than 500 meters. (UN Interagency Report cited below, 25 April 2004)

The Janjaweed are also said to have "torched dozens of mosques and torn up and defecated on copies of the Koran." (The Economist, May 15 2004).

Both sides have been accused of committing serious human rights violations, including mass killing, looting, and rapes of the civilian population. However, the better-armed Janjaweed quickly gained the upper hand. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people — mostly from the non-Arab population — had been killed and as many as a million more had been driven from their homes, causing a major humanitarian crisis in the region. The crisis took on an international dimension when over 100,000 refugees poured into neighbouring Chad, pursued by Janjaweed militiamen, who clashed with Chadian government forces along the border. More than 70 militiamen and 10 Chadian soldiers were killed in one gun battle in April.

The scale of the crisis has led to warnings of an imminent disaster, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that the risk of genocide is "frighteningly real" in Darfur. The scale of the Janjaweed campaign has led to comparisons with the Rwandan Genocide, a parallel hotly denied by the Sudanese government. Independent observers have noted that the tactics are more akin to the ethnic cleansing used in the Yugoslav Wars but have warned that the region's remoteness means that hundreds of thousands are effectively cut off from aid. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group has reported that over 350,000 people could potentially die as a result of starvation and disease. [6]

July 2004

In early July 2004, Annan and United States Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sudan and the Darfur region, and urged the Sudanese government to stop supporting the Janjaweed militias. Annan described the trips as "constructive".

The African Union and European Union have sent monitors[7] [8] (as of 5 July 2004) to monitor the cease-fire signed on 8 April 2004[9] ; however, the Janjaweed's attacks have not stopped, as noted by the United States [10] and more recently Human Rights Watch[11] .

According to the BBC in July[12] , analysts estimate that at least 15,000 soldiers would be needed to put an end to the conflict.

On 23 July, 2004, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring the armed conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur to be genocide and calling on the Bush administration to lead an international effort to put a stop to it.

On 30 July, the United Nations gave the Sudanese government 30 days to disarm and bring to justice the Janjaweed, in UN Security Council Resolution 1556 ; if this deadline is not met in 30 days, it "expresses its intention to consider" sanctions.[13] The Arab League asked for a longer term and warned that Sudan must not become another Iraq. Resolution 1556 also imposed an arms embargo on the Janjaweed and other militia.[14]

From the Sudanese government's point of view, the conflict is simply a skirmish. The Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, said, "The international concern over Darfur is actually a targeting of the Islamic state in Sudan." Sudan has warned Britain and the United States not to interfere in the internal affairs of the East African country saying it will reject any military aid, while asking for logistic support.

August 2004

In August 2004, the African Union sent 150 Rwandan troops in to protect the ceasefire monitors; however, "their mandate did not include the protection of civilians." [15] Rwandan President Paul Kagame declared that "if it was established that the civilians are in danger then our forces will certainly intervene and use force to protect civilians"; however, such an effort would certainly take more than 150 troops. They may be joined by 150 Nigerian troops later this month.[16]

Peace talks, which had previously broken down in Addis Ababa on July 17, were resumed on August 23 in Abuja. The talks reopened amid acrimony, with the SLA accusing the government of breaking promises[17] that it made for the little-respected April ceasefire.

The UN's 30 day deadline expired on August 29, after which the Secretary General reported on the state of the conflict. According to him, the situation "has resulted in some improvements on the ground but remains limited overall". In particular, he notes that the Janjaweed militias remain armed and continue to attack civilians (contrary to Resolution 1556), and militia disarmament has been limited to a "planned" 30% reduction in one particular militia, the Popular Defense Forces . He also notes that the Sudanese government's commitments regarding their own armed forces have been only partially implemented, with refugees reporting several attacks involving government forces.[18] He concludes that:

Stopping attacks against civilians and ensuring their protection is the responsibility of the Government of Sudan. The Government has not met this obligation fully, despite the commitments it has made and its obligations under resolution 1556 (2004). Attacks against civilians are continuing and the vast majority of armed militias has not been disarmed. Similarly, no concrete steps have been taken to bring to justice or even identify any of the militia leaders or the perpetrators of these attacks, allowing the violations of human rights and the basic laws of war to continue in a climate of impunity. After 18 months of conflict and 30 days after the adoption of resolution 1556 (2004), the Government of Sudan has not been able to resolve the crisis in Darfur, and has not met some of the core commitments it has made.

and advises "a substantially increased international presence in Darfur" in order to "monitor" the conflict. However, he did not threaten or imply sanctions, which the UN had expressed its "intention to consider" in Resolution 1556.

September 2004

On September 9, 2004, US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared to the US Senate that genocide was occurring in Darfur, for which he blamed the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed. This position was strongly rejected by the Sudanese foreign affairs minister, Najib Abdul Wahab . The United Nations, like the African Union and European Union, have not declared the Darfur conflict to be an act of genocide. If it does constitute an act of genocide, international law is considered to allow other countries to intervene.

Also on September 9, 2004, the US put forward a UN draft resolution threatening Sudan with sanctions on its oil industry.[19] This was adopted, in modified form, on September 18, 2004 as Resolution 1564 (see below.)

On September 13, 2004, WHO published a Darfur mortality survey, which was the first reliable indicator about deaths in Darfur. It reported that 6,000–10,000 people were dying each month in Darfur. Many were related to diarrhoea, but the most significant cause of death was violent death for those aged 15–49. The Darfur mortality rates were significantly higher than the emergency threshold, and were from 3 to 6 times higher than the normal African death rates.[20]

On September 18, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1564 , pressuring the Sudanese government to act urgently to improve the situation by threatening the possibility of oil sanctions in the event of continued noncompliance with Resolution 1556 or refusal to accept the expansion of African Union peacekeepers.[21] . Resolution 1564 also established an International Commission of Inquiry to look into human rights violations, and to determine whether genocide was occurring.[22]
In the wake of this resolution, the peacekeeper force was to be expanded to 4,500 troops.[23]

On September 30, 2004, during the first of three U.S. presidential debates, Jim Lehrer, the moderator, asked why neither candidates had discussed committing troops to Darfur. Senator John Kerry replied that "one of the reasons we can't do it is we're overextended," but agreed that he'd use American forces "to some degree to coalesce the African Union." President Bush cited aid committed to the region and agreed that action should be taken through the African Union. Both candidates agreed that what was happening in Darfur was genocide. WikiSource Transcript

October 2004

On October 15, 2004 World Health Organisation official David Nabarro estimated that 70,000 people had died of disease and malnutrition in Darfur since March.

On October 17, 2004 in a meeting between leaders of Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria and Chad, the idea of foreign intervention was rejected. They stated that they believe it to be a purely African matter. Egptian presidency spokesman Magued Abdel Fattah said that the international community should, "provide Sudan with assistance to allow it to fulfil its obligations under UN resolutions (on Darfur) rather than putting pressure on it and issuing threats".

The African Union had expected to have 3,000 additional troops in place in the region sometime in November, but lack of funds, and cited 'logistical difficulties' delayed this deployment, waiting on AU's Peace and Security Council to meet on October 20 and decide on the expanded duties and numbers of the force. It was decided that these 3,000 AU troops, from both Nigeria and Rwanda, will be deployed by October 30. The United Nations pledged $100 million dollars to support this peacekeeping force, about half of the $221 million cost to keep them deployed for a year.

Peace talks between Sudan and Darfur rebels were scheduled to resume on October 21 in Abuja, Nigeria. However, rebels showed up late and the talks did not begin until October 25. Two more rebel groups now want in on the negotiations, and an existing cease-fire agreement is considered shaky. The talks are still in progress, but a humanitarian agreement is expected to be hammered out during the course of the talks.

November 2004

On November 2 the United Nations reports that Sudanese troops have raided the Abu Sharif and Otash refugee camps near Nyala in Darfur, moving a number of inhabitants and denying aid agencies access to the remaining inhabitants inside. [24] . Meanwhile, the Abuja talks continued, with attempts made to agree on a no-fly zone over Darfur in addition to a truce on land and a disarmament of the militias.[25]

A third UN resolution is being considered, calling for a speedy end to the conflict.[26]

On November 9 the Sudanese government and the two leading rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), signed two accords aimed toward short-term progress in resolving the Darfur conflict. The first accord established a no-fly zone over rebel-controlled areas of Darfur—a measure designed to end the Sudanese military's bombing of rebel villages in the region. The second accord granted international humanitarian aid agencies unrestricted access to the Darfur region. The accords were the product of African-Union-sponsored peace talks in Abuja that began October 25. Delegates stated that a later round of negotiations expected to begin in mid-December would work on a longer-term political accord. The talks may have produced the breakthrough accords because of a looming meeting of the UN Security Council, which many expected would have impose oil sanctions on the Sudanese government if progress had not been made. [27] [28] [29]

Despite the November 9 accords, violence in Sudan continued. On November 10—one day after the accords—the Sudanese military conducted attacks on Darfur refugee villages in plain sight of UN and African Union observers. [30] [31] On November 22, alleging that Janjaweed members had refused to pay for livestock in the town market of Tawila in Northern Darfur, rebels attacked the town's government-controlled police stations. The Sudanese military retaliated on November 23 by bombing the town. [32]

See also

  • History of Sudan, for a broader view of the events that have caused the current conflict

External links

  • Directories
    • Darfur Info from the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center
    • LookSmart Darfur Crisis
      directory category
    • Yahoo! Darfur Conflict directory category
  • Humanitarian aid organizations operating in Sudan
    • AfricaCrisis Foundation Building futures for African children in the bleak
    • Oxfam International United for a more equitable world
  • Humanitarian
    • Amnesty International Darfur, Too many people killed for no reason
    • Amnesty International Darfur, Rape as a weapon of war
    • Crimes of War news with analysis of the background
    • Freedom Quest — Canadian think tank and humanitarian group interested in this conflict in Sudan
    • Human Rights Watch Darfur
    • Human Rights Watch Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support
    • res Publica Darfur Action Website
  • News and background information
    • BBC Q&A on the Darfur conflict
    • Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap - more historical background (including the 80's)
    • Photojournalist's Account - Images of Darfur's displacement
    • Living with Refugees
    • Tragedy in Darfur: On understanding and ending the horror
    • Devestatingly Obvious: Genocide in Sudan Continues Unabashed
  • Political and governmental
    • African Union The Situation in the Darfur Region of Sudan
    • UN News Centre Darfur: A Humanitarian Crisis
    • UN Sudan Information Gateway
    • Report of OHCHR mission to Chad (5–15 April 2004) (PDF, 5,6 MB)
    • USAID Sudan
    • USAID death toll estimates (PDF)
    • USAID Map of destroyed villages
  • Misc
    • Satellite Images of Darfur
  • Parties to the conflict
    • Sudan Embassy in the US
    • Sudan Justice and Equality Movement
    • Sudan Liberation Front (formerly Darfur Liberation Front)

Last updated: 02-07-2005 09:08:01
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01