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Sudan

U.N. Calls For Darfur Aid

Miriam Mannak, Cape Town, South Africa, June 1, 2006

This May 20 picture shows rebels from the Sudan Liberation Movement (S.L.M.) in Tina, a small village next to Tawila, a town located roughly 40 miles west of al-Fasher, capital of Northern Darfur. This branch of the S.L.M., loyal to Abdulwaheed Mohamed Nur, did not sign the recent peace agreement with the Sudanese government in Karthoum. (Photo: Ramzi Haidar / AFP-Getty Images)

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is urging leading members of the international community to undertake immediate action to protect peace in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. The question is: Will the international community listen and act upon Annan's cry for help? So far the wealthy West doesn't appear to be interested in helping to solve Darfur's problems, or in African humanitarian tragedies in general.

Despite the recent signed peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the major Sudanese rebel group in the first week of May, the situation in the Darfur region is still unsettled. Observers in the peacekeeping force deployed by the African Union have reported — merely ten days after the agreement was signed — the renewed and persistent occurrence of rape, roadblocks, looting, arson, violent attacks, and robbery of innocent civilians by groups of bandits.

Cry for Help

Annan, therefore, is urging U.N. member states — especially the wealthy ones — to undertake immediate action to enable the 7,000 African Union peacekeepers to fulfill their duty — to protect the peace agreement as well as the people of Darfur, and the aid workers active in the region.

"Right now, there is only one force on the ground that can begin to provide protection: the African Union Mission in Sudan, or AMIS", Anan wrote in an editorial in South Africa's Financial Mail (May 15) newspaper. "Our immediate priority must be to strengthen that force, so that it can move ahead with implementing the agreement and providing real security for the displaced people … Right now the region is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Without massive and immediate support, relief agencies will be unable to continue their work and hundreds of thousands of people will die from hunger."

It remains to be seen whether prominent members of the international community will pay heed to Annan's cry for help. For the past three years, the world has watched in apathy as a humanitarian tragedy of immense proportions unfolded. It is a tragedy which has saturated the region in fear, terror, sorrow, trauma, blood, and death. Over 400,000 people have been killed since 2003, and 2 million were displaced. More than 3 million now struggle with severe hunger.

Ethnic Cleansing

Since 2003, forces of the Sudanese government along with the ethnic militia (the Janjaweed), and two rebel groups (the Sudanese Liberation Movement, S.L.M.; and the Justice and Equality Movement, the J.E.M.) have been engaged in a deadly conflict. One of the tactics used by government forces and the Janjaweed involves military campaigns against the civilian population belonging to the same ethnic group as the rebels. In the last three years, hundreds of rural villages and towns have been destroyed and their cattle killed en masse. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, raped, maimed, and traumatized.

An estimated two million Darfurians have been chased away from their homes. Of these, 1.8 million live in camps scattered across Darfur, while 200,000 have fled to neighbouring countries such as Chad. In addition to the 2 million displaced people, 1.5 million need some form of food assistance. The conflict has destroyed the local economy, markets and trade.

Policy Priority

All this has unfolded right before the eyes of the international community. While photographs of maimed men, 'skin-over-bones' children, dying babies, and empty eyed women didn't leave anything to the imagination, the response of the wealthy West has been one of discussion, but not active involvement. While, for instance, the United States and the United Kingdom have called for a greater U.N. role in Sudan, neither of them have made the conflict a policy priority, and neither have announced plans to send troops over.

This, despite the generally-agreed upon fact that a genocide was occurring in Darfur. No U.N. mission has yet been sent to the region to protect the people from the crimes against humanity being committed there, and to bring a halt to the violations. It will only be in late Sept. 2006, almost four years after the start of the genocide, that the U.N. plans to replace the only force present in Darfur; the African Union troops.

Skepticism

Apart from the slow and inefficient response of the international community with regard to Darfur thus far, the recent past holds more reasons for skepticism as to whether or not wealthy countries will act on Annan's plea for more assistance. In 1994 the world stood by and watched Rwanda being ripped apart by one of the bloodiest genocides in history. It took the international community three months to undertake action. When in July 1994 the first peacekeepers of the new U.N. mission for Rwanda arrived, the genocide — that had claimed 800,000 lives in a period of roughly 100 days — had already been ended with the overthrow of the Hutu government by a military alliance led by Tutsi leader, now Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, who had taken the capital Kigali that month.

Then there is the widespread scourge of hunger in the Horn of Africa, which at the moment threatens over 11 million people. According to World Food Program (W.F.P.) the situation has been caused by a relentless drought which began five to six years ago. Back in 2000, the world was warned about what is currently transpiring, and assistance was requested to prevent the unthinkable tragedy that is now unfolding.

While many millions were collected for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami, while all eyes were focused on Afghanistan, the Twin Towers, and the security situation in Iraq, East Africa was ignored. And even now, when the scope of the humanitarian crisis there is crystal clear, the international community does not seem to be willing to offer a helping hand. So far the W.F.P. has received only $28 million of the $225 million it needs to feed the hungry and prevent them from starving.

History Repeats Itself

Unfortunately the aforementioned are not the only examples of the collective negligent attitude shown by the international community towards serious humanitarian crises in Africa. The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, is fueled by an unremitting insurgency involving Uganda, and has displaced more than a million people in approximately 12 years, claimed 100,000 lives, and has driven 30,000 children into the arms of local warlords. Add to the list the continuing violence in Burundi, the situation in Zimbabwe, and so forth. These are crises that have claimed many thousands of lives over the past few years, but apparently were not interesting enough for the wealthy West to intervene in.

The past history may be a legitimate reason to be pessimistic on whether or not the international community will listen and effectively act upon Annan's plea for more assistance for the 7,000 African Union soldiers in Sudan. But perhaps we should remain hopeful, and give those in question the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, people do learn from the past.

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