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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Another Sudan Update 

For those of you who are following the situation in Sudan (which I've covered before here and here), please be assured that despite a series of hopeful signs, things are NOT getting better in Darfur.

From the Financial Times [Link via Crooked Timber]:
"There are no more villages to burn," a United Nations relief officer said when describing the situation in western Sudan last week. Forced displacement of people had stopped to an extent, he added, and after more than a year of war, an unsettling calm had fallen across much of the region of Darfur.

But just because Darfur's villages have been razed to the ground, that does not mean the horror is over for the brutalised civilians of the area. The "Janjaweed" government-backed Arab militia continues its campaign of mass murder and rape against black African tribes in Darfur. The government of Sudan not only aids the Janjaweed with money and guns but also supports the fighters tactically with aerial bombardment of villages immediately before militia raids.

The Janjaweed have corralled civilians into camps - what some rightly call "concentration camps" - where many are dying slowly from disease and malnutrition. This year's planting season has been missed, grain reserves have been deliberately targeted and destroyed and the government continues to block humanitarian aid from reaching most displaced Darfurians. Those who were not slaughtered outright are clearly being left to starve. Since early last year, this vicious campaign has claimed an estimated 30,000 civilian lives; international aid agencies say that over 1.2m people have been displaced within Sudan and at least 120,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad, making Khartoum's conduct a grave threat to regional as well as internal stability. USAID estimates that another 350,000 could die due to the desperate situation in Darfur.

In short, the government of Sudan is conducting a scorched-earth, near-genocidal war against its own citizens.

You can read more about this awful story in the LA Times.

Daniel Drezner points out this Chicago Tribune story (with an unfortunate headline):
Sudan embargo shows crack

The Bush administration moved one step closer Tuesday to lifting an arms embargo against Sudan, even as it decried the government's role in blocking relief efforts for a huge humanitarian crisis sparked by continuing Sudanese military attacks against civilians.

Secretary of State Colin Powell removed Sudan from a list of countries that cannot receive U.S. arms because they have failed to cooperate with the U.S. on international terrorism. He formally notified Congress of that decision with the publication Tuesday morning of a notice in the Federal Register.

Sudan's removal from the so-called non-cooperative list moves it closer to having the arms embargo lifted, though that cannot happen until its name also is taken off a separate list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. government maintains the two lists to pressure nations that either maintain formal ties with terrorist groups or do not do enough to help the U.S. go after them.

Later Tuesday, Powell did not mention his action on Sudan as he promised a group of development and relief workers that the administration "will not normalize relations" with the Sudanese military dictatorship until it addresses the humanitarian crisis unfolding in a region of western Sudan known as Darfur...

But Jemera Rone, a Human Rights Watch official who has worked on the Darfur situation, said it was "just appalling" for the U.S. government "to make any gesture toward Sudan like this." She also predicted the Sudanese government would hold it out to critics as "some sort of U.S. stamp of approval" for its actions.

So what's going on? Why is the US lifting sanctions on a country which is allowing or encouraging this kind of terror campaign? Part of the reason is that Sudan actually has two civil wars going on at the same time. Besides the Darfur catastrophe (where Arab Muslims are attacking Black Muslims), there has been an ongoing conflict between the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum and non-Muslims in the South (primarily the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA). This latter conflict appears to be ending: the government and the SPLA are wrapping up peace negotiations. But as this war ends, the other heats up:
There are strong suspicions that the government has been stringing out the talks with the SPLA simply to provide time to redirect military resources to the Darfur front. In any case, Khartoum almost certainly calculated - correctly - that the international community would be unwilling to speak out about the turmoil in Darfur as long as a deal between the government and the SPLA was so tantalisingly close.
It's tough to tell how much of the US decision to ease pressure on Khartoum is the result of independent, uncoordinated bureaucratic processes, how much is the result of a balancing act between various agendas (anti-terror, anti-genocide, pro-SPLA/Khartoum accords) within the State Department, and how much is just plain tone-deafness or stupidity. One important factor is that a 2002 US law set today as the deadline for a determination of whether progress toward a SPLA/Sudan peace accord was still being made. MostlyAfrica has good coverage of all the bureaucratic ins and outs.

[Note to conspiracy theorists: Sudan has oil! It must be about the oil, right?]

Any way you slice it, though, no one, not the EU, not the US, not the UN, not ECOWAS or the OAU, nobody: no one is stopping this ongoing horror story.

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