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Friday, April 09, 2004

What is the Meaning of the Darfur Cease-fire Agreement? In All Likelihood, Virtually Nothing Without Additional International Pressure 

Eric Reeves
April 9, 2004

The agreement reached yesterday in N'Djamena (Chad), providing for a cease-fire of 45 days and nominally for humanitarian access, suggests how quickly international pressure an influence Khartoum. At the same time present realities on the ground in Darfur reveal the disastrous consequences of belated application of this pressure. Even with immediate humanitarian access, the US Agency for International Development is now predicting that as many as 100,000 people are destined to perish because of current food insecurity, disease, compromised water sources, and lack of security for agricultural production. Moreover, since the auspices for the agreement are those of the very weak Chadian government of Idriss Deby, the consequences of Khartoum's violation and reneging have not been spelled out in ways that have any real meaning.

The essential task confronting the international community---which has, unforgivably, waited months to speak with sufficient urgency, despite the clear evidence of massive racially/ethnically-driven civilian destruction---is to transform this flimsy agreement into something that will trigger powerful international sanctions if it is violated. UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan's declared willingness to use military force to ensure humanitarian access and civilian safety must result in immediate planning for a possible deployment. For certainly one likely response of Khartoum's Arab militia allies to this agreement will be an acceleration of human destruction, particularly in the concentration camps that continue to grow in number and size throughout Darfur. These camps are increasingly under the control of the Arab militias (the Janjaweed), with no government presence or control.

[A truly extraordinary first-hand report from within the Nyala region of Darfur, perhaps the most compelling to emerge from Darfur, has come to this writer from Eltigani Ateem, former governor of Darfur; excerpts appear below. This very recent and enormously persuasive report was prepared by a Darfur native of Arab tribal background, and gives horrifying details of the precarious hold on existence of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in these concentration camps. Thousands face possible extermination in the space of days or even hours. See below.]

Certainly Khartoum's longstanding and strenuous resistance to any international presence---either in the negotiations or on the ground in Darfur---has not changed simply with the signing of an agreement. The challenges in overcoming this resistance are enormous, even as Khartoum's means of resisting the terms of the agreement are many, and easily calibrated to what evolving circumstances permit.

There are a number of early tests that will be a measure of Khartoum's continuing resistance to any international presence in vast areas of Darfur devastated by the war and presently beyond the reach of any humanitarian relief. Failure by the international community to confront Khartoum over any refusal to "guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid to the stricken region" (Agence France-Presse, April 8, 2004) will guarantee the rapid collapse of the cease-fire and any prospects for meaningful increases in humanitarian aid delivery. Many aid workers are already expressing deep skepticism over the meaningfulness of the agreement.

One early test will be the expedited provision of visas and travel permits for all humanitarian workers, for those conducting humanitarian assessments, and for those providing logistical support. Here we should note with grave concern that there has been no further update on the issue of access for the four-person UN human rights investigating team, deployed several days ago on a 10-day mission. Agence France-Presse reported on April 7, 2004: "The Sudanese government had not given the [UN human rights investigating] mission permission to enter Sudan, a UN spokesperson said on Tuesday [April 6, 2004]." Reuters reported yesterday that: "The four-member team is still interviewing Sudanese
refugees in Chad and has not yet been given a green light to enter Sudan, a U.N. human rights spokeswoman said in Geneva late on Thursday [April 8, 2004]" (Reuters, April 8, 2004).

Another early test will be to ascertain whether all military aircraft have ceased flying combat missions; these included Antonov bombers, MiG fighters, and helicopter gunships. If "US defense officials are closely monitoring developments in Sudan's troubled Darfur region" (Voice of America, April 1, 2004), this determination should be thoroughly practicable.

Certainly credible reports of aerial assaults are very recent. Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT) reported on April 6, 2004 that Khartoum's "armed forces bombed Mahajrea village, 4 April 2004, east Nyala, Southern Darfur State. The military bombed the village using two Helicopter gunships and one military plane (Antonov). SOAT has received information that at least four civilians have been killed with one civilian wounded. The aerial bombardment took place between 3: 30pm and 7:30pm."

Yet another test will be to see whether there is an end to the burning of Massaleit, Fur, and Zaghawa villages---this may easily be accomplished through aerial and satellite reconnaissance.

If Kofi Annan "trusts this agreement will result in an immediate cessation of hostilities and an end to attacks against civilians" (UN News Center [New York] April 8, 2004), this is well and good. But the overwhelming likelihood is that this agreement won't end attacks on civilians, but may in fact accelerate them. The Janjaweed militias have very good reason to destroy as many witnesses to their countless atrocities as possible. For the entry into Darfur of humanitarian workers means that these atrocities will no longer be invisible, and this may have grim, unintended consequences.

If Khartoum fails any of these key tests, the international community must immediately move toward actual deployment of the assets that will be required for a militarily protected humanitarian intervention.

The alternative? What might happen is no such action is taken? What will be the fate of those so clearly and deeply imperiled at this moment? The Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) and Amnesty International have both very recently reported on a brutal episode of extrajudicial killings in which 168 people of the Fur tribe were executed for the "crime" of being African (one of many such reports in recent months). SOAT reported on April 6, 2004:

"Officers from military intelligence and militia leaders (Janjaweed) arrested 168 people all belongs to the Fur Tribe, 5 - 7 March 2004, and then summarily executed them at security offices in Delaij, Wadi Salih province, Western Darfur State. The arrests took place in the villages of Zaray, Fairgo, Tairgo and Kaskildo, all south of Garsilla, Wadi Salih province. They were detained for alleged involvement with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and taken to the security offices in Delaij, a village 30 kilometres east of Garsilla town, Wadi Salih province. During their detention the 168 people were allegedly subjected to torture and summarily executed by firing squad. SOAT has received information that they were executed outside of the judicial process and were not given their rights as guaranteed by Sudanese law."

Amnesty International echoes this finding in its report of April 7, 2004:

"Amnesty International has now obtained detailed accounts of the 168 people extrajudicially executed. The men were taken from 10 villages in Wadi Saleh, in the west of Darfur near the Chad border, by a large force which included members of the Sudan army, military intelligence and Janjawid.

"They were blindfolded and taken in groups of about 40, on army trucks to an area behind a hill near Deleij village. There they were then told to lie on the ground and shot by a force of about 45 members of the military intelligence and the Janjawid.

"Two of those shot lay wounded among the bodies before escaping and giving information to the outside world." (Amnesty International report [London], April 7, 2004)

This brutally shocking and authoritatively established episode is but one of many, and again, the international community must confront the clear prospect that in Darfur (an area the size of France) these killings will accelerate with the advent of humanitarian workers---workers who will be operating in extremely perilous circumstance because they will also be witnesses to massive crimes against humanity, and indeed genocide.

Here, appropriately, the Committee on Conscience of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has again reiterated its genocide warning for Sudan, taking cognizance of massive impending civilian destruction:

"'USAID's prediction that 100,000 civilians may soon die underscores the increasing threat of genocide in Sudan,' said Committee Chairman Thomas Bernstein. 'If there is anything we can learn from the history of the Holocaust, and from the history of genocide since the Holocaust, it is that we cannot ignore widespread and systematic, government-sponsored attacks on civilians of specific racial and ethnic groups.'" (Inter Press Service, April 7, 2004)

How vulnerable are the increasingly concentrated populations of Darfur to such destruction? Reuters offers an example in a dispatch filed today from the very large concentration camp near Kuttum:

"'Young girls can't leave the camp. We are scared to send them out. They rape them. We can't send the young men out because they will kill the men,' Fatma, an African villager clutching her infant, said in a camp on the edge of Kutum." (Reuters, April 9, 2004)

The UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks reports on the fate of Dinkas from southern Sudan caught up in the racially/ethnically animated destruction of Darfur:

"Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state of Southern Darfur, western Sudan, say their camp was looted and burned by Arab militiamen on 4 April [ ]. The camp, home to thousands of Dinkas---an ethnic group from southern Sudan---is located on the edge of Abu Jura, a village about 40 km from Nyala. Almost all of it was burned by Janjawid---Arab militias---several of the IDPs told IRIN in Nyala. 'We are targeted because we are black,' a Dinka teacher claimed. 'The Janjawid said: 'We don't want any black skin here.'" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nyala, Darfur], April 8, 2004)

As noted above, perhaps the single most terrifying single account to date from within Darfur comes from the Nyala region. The account has been forwarded to this writer by Eltigani Ateem, former governor of Darfur, and excerpts appear below. This very recent report was prepared by a Darfur native of Arab tribal background (only this permitted the
access he was able to gain), and offers a terrifying view into the holocaust unfolding within the many concentration camps. The full 2500-word account is available upon request. Herewith the most telling excerpts:

"Eyewitness account: The situation in Southern Darfur"

"I have been away from Darfur for sometime, almost two years during which major developments have occurred in a region renowned by its tribal diversity. I have decided to go to the region in order to visit my relatives and to acquire first hand knowledge of the situation in the region [....].

"I flew to Nyala, the capital of Southern Darfur State. From the airport you can feel the state of war in the region as the airport was heavily guarded by tanks, artillery and rocket launchers, in addition to the presence of a large number of troops. The feeling of war and tribal animosities as well as polarisation along tribal lines were obvious throughout the town [....].

"Despite repeated warnings from my friends and relatives not to venture to travel outside Nyala because of lack of security, I decided to visit one of the so-called battlefronts along the borders of the Arab Beni Halba tribe and the Fur tribe where wide scale atrocities were recently reported in Kilkeik, Um Labasa, Shataya, Dogodossa and a number of other villages in the area [...].

"The sense of lawlessness, complete militia control and absence of government control could be felt two miles from Nyala. The whole area is full of government-supported militia on horsebacks carrying their rifles on the move to attack the Fur villages. Every village that belongs to members of the Fur tribe inside the Beni Halba area was deserted, with the exception of some Janjaweed looting the properties of those who fled the villages [...].

"The government has managed to create substantial tribal hostilities to the extent that the Arab militiamen do not contemplate to spare the life of anybody who belongs to the indigenous African tribes. This is the code of conduct the militia has been ordered to strictly observe with vigour in this mad campaign in Darfur.

"We reached Um Labasa at a time when Shataya and 18 other Fur villages were torched. The trip has also coincided with the attack by the government troops and the militia on Sindu where the SLM had a training camp. In Um Labasa there were about 6000 IDPs all of whom were women, elderly and children who fled the joint assault of the government troops and the militia on Sindu area. The IDPs are living in the open, within boundaries of fences constructed from thorn trees and have no access to food, medicines or even water. Many of the children and the elderly have died as a result of starvation and lack of medicine. The authorities have deliberately prevented supplies of food and medicines to reach these vulnerable people despite the efforts of some of the moderate Arabs in the area. I believe many of these people will die if relief is not immediately provided.

"The whole area has become a military zone with thousands of Arab militia, well armed and well organised taking control of the situation. In fact every Arab I saw that day was carry an automatic rifle. Some have much more lethal weapons. There was no presence of the army with the exception of a small contingent led by a lieutenant interrogating the IDPs after isolating the males from the rest of the IDPs. The scene was heartbreaking. The way these vulnerable people are treated is degrading and dehumanising. I read of concentration camps in the history books and I saw pictures of the Bosnian Muslims ill-treated by the Serbs in camps of barbwire. What I saw in Darfur is worse than the images I saw from Bosnia. It has reminded me with the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990s where hundreds of thousand of minority Tutsis were brutally murdered and the entire world was taking no notice of the genocide until it was too late.

"The sheer magnitude of the problem in Darfur is very clear when you visit Um Labasa police station. A number of detainees alleged to belong to the SLM were crammed in a small cell including the elderly. Perhaps the most harrowing part of this is the presence of a number of seriously wounded among the detainees in police custody. You ask why the wounded are not taken to the hospital and the police response: is swift; 'we keep them here for their own safety. If they are transferred to the hospital, the militia will kill them in their hospital beds.' The question I asked myself is 'if this is what is happening in the tribal border areas, what would be the situation deep in the Fur land where the only witnesses to the way people are treated are the militia and the government troops?'

"We left for Shataya, a once prosperous town in the area. On the way, the sign of lawlessness and brutality is evident. On the one hand are the militia who were everywhere checking our identities, informing their leaders via mobile and satellite phones, and on the other hand is a massive looting operation of the Fur villages [...]. Village after village, evacuated by members of the Fur tribe after the attack on Sindu have been looted and torched. When we arrived at Shataya, the scene was sickening. The entire town, without exception was torched and gutted including the schools and the hospital [...].

"My journey did not end there. I decided to visit Kaileik, which has dominated the news over the last few days as a result of the ill treatment of IDPs. Kaileik is the last post in the so-called battle frontline in which well-armed Arab militiamen have repeatedly and persistently attacked and torched Fur villages. I arrived in Keileik in the afternoon and from the onset you could tell that something terrible is going on in this place. The place was overwhelmed by the militia and again there is no trace for government troops. The scenes looked chaotic and the militia have full control of the area.

"However, it wasn't too long before I stumbled over the most horrific scenes I have ever seen in my life. In an open area surrounded by a fence made from thorn trees are around 6000 IDPs most of whom are women, children and elderly. It seems these IDPs have been there for sometime. They looked tormented, hungry and frail. I have come to learn that these IDPs have been there without food, water, shelter and medicines. A lot of them have died as a result of thirst, hunger and disease. That day 17 IDPs died and I believe many would in the next few days, as virtually there is nothing to eat or drink. What worried me most in the wake of this unfolding tragedy is that the militiamen behave so unemotionally as if nothing is happening. Few moderate Arabs are trying cautiously to call for feeding these IDPs and providing them with water but such calls fall on deaf ears.

"I privately asked some people why all of the IDPs are either women, children or elderly? Where are the men? Some people privately admitted that the government troops and the militia have executed a lot of people when the villages were raided. Some were taken away by the government troops and the Militia in truckloads and their fate is unknown. A name of one militia leader frequently quoted is Ali Koshaib, a retired army lieutenant from Ta'aisha Arab tribe. He is nicknamed the Butcher of Western Darfur because he is the man entrusted by the government to wipe out all the villages in Western Darfur and to depopulate the area. I have come to understand that the entire villages in Western Darfur, Dar Massaleet and Dar Zagawa have been completely destroyed---more than 2000 villages.

"The State government in Nyala has a good idea of what is happening in Kaileik but nothing has been done to avert this terrible disaster. Is this happening with the full blessing of the government? Many people including some leaders of the militia privately admit that it is the government's policy and that they are being rewarded financially for this. From what I have seen in Kaileik, the world would definitely witness another genocide in the African continent, which might probably be worse than that of Rwanda. I left the area with a lot of ill feelings. I felt extremely irritated at the way the militia treated the vulnerable IDPs most of whom are children, women and elderly, depriving them from water, food and medicine. They are dying everyday as result of hunger and diseases. I felt completely unable to expose the plight of these people locally as that would mean retribution against oneself and his immediate family.

"My next stop was Id Elfursan, the capital of Bani Halba Tribe [...]. Next day the Minister and the Governor of Southern Darfur State visited Id Elfursan, where they have been met by the militiamen on horseback. Addressing the militia, Mr. Kasha praised their courage and vigour in confronting the rebels and teaching them a lesson. He asked them to continue their campaign with the full support of the central authorities. He donated LS100 million to the militia. The governor of South Darfur also addressed the gathering and donated LS10 million.

"Perhaps the most sickening event occurred in Kabum where the Federal Minster of Trade visited a camp where 6000 IDPs were staying. 'Where are your leaders?' he said. 'They fled and left you behind and now you are under the mercy of these people (the militia). Why don't you ask those in London to come for your aid?' I just couldn't understand how on earth such a person address tormented IDPs who survive the attacks on their villages in this manner. A federal Minster, somebody who is supposed to be acting responsibly, instead of comforting the IDPs and calling for immediate shipments of relief to the dying IDPs, is making a mockery of the plight of the these people and is telling them that they are under the mercy of the militia.

"At the end of my visit to the area I would like to state the following:

"The IDPs in the area are kept in concentration camps with no access to food, water and medicine. At the moment the death rate stands at around 15/day. This figure would definitely rise over the next few days. These people are living in appalling conditions and the only way to rescue them is through international intervention. There is an urgent need for relief but neither the State government nor the central authorities are prepared to allow shipments of relief to the IDPs in this area.

"The concentration camps are in the following areas:

Kaileik, 6000;
Umlabassa, 4,000;
Dugo Dossa, 3,000;
Kabum, 6,000;
Habooba, 1500;

"There is no doubt that the Sudanese government has organised the Arab militia, armed them and encouraged them to commit a wide scale atrocities against three tribes of the area, namely the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa tribes. There is a lot of co-ordination in the field between militia leaders and the government forces and security elements.

"There is a deliberate policy by the government to hamper relief supplies to the IDPs. Six truckloads of relief destined for the IDPs in Kaileik were confiscated by the security forces in Kass last week.

"High-ranking government officials are deeply involved in encouraging violence against the innocent civilians as well as encouraging the militia to commit atrocities in the area."

[end of report]

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

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