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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Even As an Agreement in Naivasha Now Appears Imminent, Khartoum Continues Campaigns of Human Destruction in Southern Sudan and Darfur 

Eric Reeves
April 6, 2004

Authoritative reports from the Naivasha talks in Kenya, including dispatches from Reuters and Agence France-Presse, suggest that US pressure---exerted with a deadline defined by the rapid approach of a Presidential determination per the requirements of the Sudan Peace Act---has succeeded in ending Khartoum's months of stalling on conclusion of a peace agreement. Given the extremely precarious nature of these negotiations, and continual shifts in Khartoum's diplomatic willingness to engage, nothing can be certain; outstanding issues remain. But most of the difficult issues around power-sharing and the three contested areas have now been resolved, and the odds have shifted significantly in favor of the signing of an agreement.

This, of course, marks only the beginning of the real work in making a just and sustainable peace in Sudan. A peace agreement is indispensable, but does nothing in and of itself; it merely creates the opportunity for peace actually to be made. It will require extraordinary work, a very substantial commitment of resources---and immediate efforts to secure the terms of the peace agreement and to build confidence on both sides.

Such confidence, however, is impossible to imagine while Khartoum continues its campaigns of human destruction in Darfur and in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province in southern Sudan (and continues to violate other terms of the October 15, 2002 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the February 4, 2003 "Addendum" to this Cessation of
Hostilities Agreement).

[1] A number of recent human rights reports, editorials, published analyses, and wire dispatches suggest that the world is now finally awakening to the horrors of Khartoum's genocidal war in Darfur. Even so, we are still struggling to grasp the immensity of the catastrophe---in terms of human displacement, the physical destruction of villages, water systems, and agricultural capacity, and the number of those who have already perished or seem destined to perish. But on this latter issue, consensus seems to be crystallizing around the figure of over 30,000 first used by Sudan Focal Point, South Africa ("A View of Sudan from Africa: Monthly Briefing," January 2004).

But as horrific as this number is, implying a casualty rate of 1,000 people per week in the recent months of the conflict, it may well be a vast understatement. Here we need to hear carefully the statement from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), reported today by Reuters:

"'The scale of the violence is indescribable,' said Coralie Lechelle, an emergency coordinator with medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres, who has just returned from four months in Darfur. 'In every village they're talking about hundreds of people killed.'" (Reuters, April 6, 2004)

And we know, from numerous sources, that many hundreds of villages have been reported destroyed, For example, Amnesty International, in its comprehensive report of February 3, 2004 ("Darfur: Too Many People Killed for No Reason"), reports in just one paragraph of its lengthy account:

"Scores of civilians fled to Kabkabiya town between June and August 2003. Reports alleged that 300 villages had been attacked or burnt to the ground in the area. Many displaced were reportedly living in the open or in the local school in Kabkabiya, having very little or no access to humanitarian aid. For instance, hundreds had fled after an
attack on Shoba, a Fur village situated 7 km south of Kabkabiya on 25 July, by armed militia wearing government army uniforms, in which at least 51 Shoba villagers, including many elders, were killed." (page 35)

MSF also declares in its own press release, "from what we could see, there are heavy massacres and violence in the region." (Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, "We Could See Villages Burning Along the Road," March 2004; http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/voices/sudan_03-2004.shtm.)

MSF has so far proved the most intrepid and resilient humanitarian organization operating in Darfur; their reporting must be regarded as especially authoritative. This shocking description of casualties---"In every village they're talking about hundreds of people killed"---must force very careful consideration of how vast human destruction has already become.

Just as shocking is the horrific prospective view offered by Roger Winter of the US Agency for International Development:

"Aside from the death, destruction, and long-term hostility that the conflict has already caused, our humanitarian experts believe that as many as 100,000 may die over the coming months in Darfur, even if a ceasefire is achieved this week. The toll will rise proportionate to any delays." (Remarks from Roger Winter, USAID Assistant Administrator for the Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau; Inter-Sudanese Conflict Meeting, N'Djamena (Chad), March 31, 2004)

But the chances for any near-term humanitarian cease-fire seem as of this writing extremely remote. Khartoum refuses to meet directly with the political leadership of the two Darfur insurgency groups at the present "negotiations" in N'djamena (Chad); Khartoum "refuses to allow international observers to attend the negotiations" (Agence France-Presse, April 6, 2004), even as this is the fundamental demand of the insurgency groups; Khartoum has also ordered the weak Chad government of Idris Deby to deny entry visas to political leaders from one of the two groups; and the regime is so far unwilling to move beyond procedural issues: it is simply "talking about talking" in N'Djamena, as one informed participant described the current state of affairs.

In short, though we cannot be sure what the present total of casualties is in Darfur, we can be certain that it is or will be many, many tens of thousands. Indeed, it is difficult to see how, from all available evidence (including, increasingly, aerial surveillance), that the ultimate human destruction can be less than 150,000 civilians dying as a consequence of Khartoum's ethnically/racially animated war on the African peoples of Darfur.

[2] Even as this holocaust continues Khartoum has escalated conflict in the south, in particular in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province. A recent dispatch from this writer highlighted what has been reported by wire services and what is being reported from the ground by highly authoritative regional sources. Dismayingly, this is yet another
occasion requiring that the international community recognize the failure of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) to investigate attacks on civilians in southern Sudan in a timely, thorough, and effective fashion. Indeed, the failure to investigate the attack on eight humanitarian workers in Nimne (Western Upper Nile) in February of this year is a permanent stain on the moral integrity of CPMT.

But a series of very recent "situation reports" ("sit reps") produced by CPMT have reached this writer from a confidential source, and despite their shortcomings, these "sit reps" are the source of important details and a telling assessment of the present situation in the Shilluk Kingdom.

[The Shilluk, like the Dinka and Nuer, are part of the larger Nilotic tribal group; the Shilluk Kingdom comprises an area mainly north of Malakal town in Upper Nile Province. The defection of Shilluk commander Lam Akol back to the SPLM/A in October 2003 does much to explain, though certainly not justify, Khartoum's decision to launch intense military
offensives in this area.]

Some telling highlights from these "sit reps" by the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT):

"Popwojo [Shilluk Kingdom]:

Assessed as [more than] 97% destroyed (Photo 4) CPMT witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds (Photo 5)

Village pastor/school teacher identified each grave by name and discussed the manner in which he found the bodies:

Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian intervention (numbers given by witnesses in this village estimate displaced at 19,100 between the villages on Diny and Popwojo)

A CPMT member with 18 months of CPMT field investigative experience described this as the worst systematic destruction/displacement of civilians he has personally observed since the formation of the CPMT in August 2002.

A second CPMT member with over 8 years of Sudan experience and 16 months with CPMT described the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating 'clearing' of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s." (Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

Another Khartoum-initiated attack is described in the same "sit rep":

Nyilwak [Shilluk Kingdom]

Assessed as [more than] 75% destroyed (Photo 1) Eight civilian men (aged 18-60) killed while trying to flee (CPMT witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds [Photo 2] and interviewed surviving family members)

Close to 30 civilians wounded; exact count not yet established because of widespread displacement Reportedly several thousand head of cattle had been stolen and taken to Malakal Reportedly all grain stocks had been stolen or burnt NGO compounds and clinic (VSF Germany and World Vision) have been looted and razed (Photo 3)

Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian intervention (Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

Other details from another CPMT "sit rep":

"The CPMT witnessed & photographed approximately 100 burned Tukuls along the Nile River south of Oriny all the way to just north of Malakal. The burning along this stretch encompasses the villages mentioned above but destruction is intermittent (burnt/destroyed tukuls are inter-dispersed with intact tukuls). (Photo #1)." (Malakal Area Destruction, SITREP # 5, April 4, 2004)

"On March 30, 2004, CPMT flew aerial reconnaissance along the Bahr al Ghazal River, South of Malakal between Nyilwak, southwest to Popwojo. (Reference MAP attached) Flight revealed numerous razed villages. Conservative estimation of destroyed homes in this small stretch:700 Tukuls. IDPs could be seen in clusters beneath trees along the southern bank of the river.: (CPMT Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 3)

There is a good deal more in these "sit reps," but of particular significance is the account of who is responsible for the fighting, and this account points unambiguously to Khartoum and its militia allies in the region:

"There are numerous reports from witnesses that Government of Sudan militia, Government of Sudan regulars and Government of Sudan Police attacked villages all around Malakal in the Shilluk Kingdom. All witnesses state that combined Nuer, Shilluk, and Murle militia forces of Gabriel Tanginya, James Othow, Thomas Mabor, Gordon Kong, Simon Gatwic, Joseph Mabota, Moktar Salim and Arok Moijok supported by Government of Sudan regular troops and police from Tonga and Malakal and their surrounding garrisons are conducting these attacks. Further, witnesses claim that Government of Sudan regulars from Malakal have been supporting the attacks with artillery/mortar fire from barges and 'steamers' along the Bahr al Ghazal River." (Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

These "sit reps" make clear that Khartoum has instigated a major military offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom, using both its regular forces and its militia allies. The intent is to destroy and displace civilians, just as it is in Darfur. It is not surprising that one experienced member of CPMT would "describe the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating 'clearing' of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s."

But if not surprising, this renewed assault on southern civilians forces a critical question: is Khartoum's evident decision to sign a peace agreement in Naivasha worth anything? anything at all? The ongoing contempt for African lives, whether in Darfur or southern Sudan, could not be clearer. Why should we assume that a signature on a piece of paper will make any difference? Let us bear in mind that the National Islamic Front regime has signed many agreements---and has violated or abrogated every single one of them. The attacks in the Shilluk Kingdom, again, are clear and highly consequential violations of both the October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003 agreements concerning offensive military actions in southern Sudan.

Why will it be different this time in Naivasha?

There is only one possible answer: the international community must offer unwavering determination and commitment of resources---diplomatic, material, and peacekeeping. This alone will allow the peace agreement to be translated into true peace. Khartoum's cynical calculation, supported by far too much evidence from the past, is that such "unwavering determination" and "commitment of resources" is extremely unlikely. The regime believes that it can sign an agreement, having held out to the last possible moment, largely to mute international criticism of its genocidal war in Darfur, and now reap all the benefits of "making an historic peace." And then the regime hopes to wait until international attention and commitment drift away, thereby creating innumerable opportunities for reneging on various terms of the agreement.

It is shameful how simultaneously obvious and disingenuous Khartoum's strategy is. All that can avert a ghastly amplification of this shame, shame all the more conspicuously on display as we mark the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide---all that can forestall the resumption of catastrophic civilian destruction in Sudan in the coming months---is [1] the most urgent deployment of a large UN peace support operation, with full logistical capacities, capable personnel, and military protection if necessary; [2] a very rapid increase in commitments to emergency transitional aid in the south; [3] and a determined effort to bring peace and justice to Darfur, beginning with an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

None of these is in sight; neither then is a just or sustainable peace for Sudan.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
ereeves@smith.edu

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