'Darfur in flames'
International outrage against atrocities in Sudan is growing, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Beshir angrily rejected an official request by the United States to send a fact-finding mission to the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan. Speaking to thousands of supporters in Al-Fashir, the capital of Darfur, Al-Beshir warned of an "international neo-colonialist conspiracy to break-up Sudan and to demoralise Sudan's armed forces."
In a deliberate show of defiance, and perhaps in a desperate bid to boost the morale of government forces and allied militias in Darfur, Al-Beshir reaffirmed the territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of Sudan.
The Sudanese government also turned down an offer by John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the largest armed opposition group in the country, to mediate between the Sudanese government and armed opposition groups in Darfur.
"We are an important political factor on the Sudanese political scene. We must not be overlooked in efforts to reconcile the Sudanese government and armed opposition groups in Darfur," Garang said at the start of Sudanese peace talks in Kenya.
The sixth round of face-to-face peace talks between Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Garang began on Monday in Naivasha, 80kms northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
The Sudanese peace talks are taking place under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a regional grouping of seven East African countries, including Sudan. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition organisation that includes the SPLA and other mainly northern Sudanese opposition parties, is not taking part in the Sudanese peace talks in Naivasha.
Cairo-based Mohamed Othman Al- Mirghani, head of the NDA, expressed concern at the slow pace of the peace talks and the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Darfur.
Last Friday the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva expressed concern about the overall situation in Darfur but stopped short of condemning the Sudanese government. The US envoy to the Commission, Richard Williamson, expressed outrage. "We must stand up and condemn unconscionable acts," he said.
While the Sudanese government welcomed the Commission's verdict human rights groups contested it. "This once again calls into question the Commission's ability and willingness to rise above political wrangling and promote and protect human rights," an Amnesty International statement read.
"This is a very meagre response to a situation that is at the point of spiralling into a full- fledged human rights catastrophe."
Human rights groups warn against operations carried out by the Arab militias or Janjaweed who allegedly enjoy Sudanese government air cover during raids. Aerial bombardment has spread terror and devastation in Darfur, the rights groups claim.
"The pattern of attacks on civilians includes killing, rape, pillage, including livestock, and destruction of property, including water resources," warned Amnesty International.
"This is the most vicious hostile campaign this government has ever faced," said Sudanese Foreign Minister Mostafa Othman Ismail.
Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Nour Musa, leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), has been collaborating closely with the SPLA and other political groups in the NDA. The SLA, the largest armed opposition group in Darfur, warned that the Darfur peace talks are faltering because of Sudanese government intransigence.
0n 8 April international pressure resulted in the signing of a cease-fire agreement in the Chad capital Ndjamena. But internecine fighting has continued and no monitoring force has been established.
The SLA claims that 160 civilians have died since the signing of the cease-fire agreement.
Amid growing international condemnation of its handling of Darfur, the Sudanese government has reacted angrily to calls for international military intervention in the war-torn region. Sudanese opposition groups also caution against military intervention.
"We are against foreign military intervention in Darfur. We have before us the example of Iraq," Farouk Abu Eissa, former head of the Cairo-based Arab Lawyers Union and official spokesman for the NDA told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"We do not want a similar situation to develop in Darfur, or Sudan. But we urge the international community to intervene in Darfur by facilitating humanitarian relief. We appeal to the international community to put pressure on the Sudanese government and to facilitate the flow of humanitarian relief assistance. But we reject foreign military intervention."
Last week UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a strongly-worded statement calling on the international community to intervene militarily to contain the rapidly deteriorating situation in Darfur. The UN also released a report severely critical of the Sudanese government's scorched earth policy in Darfur.
The UN report, Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan, came under criticism from different quarters, with the Sudanese government and Arabised tribes in Darfur complaining of Western bias.
They argue that the fighting in Darfur has long been between pastoralists (predominantly Arabised tribes) and sedentary agriculturists (mainly indigenous non-Arab groups). The vast majority of Darfur's population is, like other regions of northern Sudan, predominantly Muslim. But like southern Sudan it is not Arabised. Most of the people of Darfur retain non-Arab ethnic identities and languages.
The SLA is a political and military coalition of the three largest indigenous ethnic groups in Darfur -- the Fur, Zaghawa and the Masaleet. They joined forces in order to coordinate resistance against the Arab militias.
"The armed conflict in Darfur is not simply between Arabs and non-Arabs. Fighting often occurs between Arab tribes such as the Beni Helba and Al-Mahiriya, who are part of the huge Rezeiquat tribal confederacy of western and central Sudan," Yaqub Al- Dumuki, an ethnic Arab from the Beni Halba tribe told the Weekly.
Al-Dumuki, a London-based journalist who has just returned from a visit to Darfur, said the problem in Darfur is one of underdevelopment and poverty. He stressed the humanitarian situation.
"We are concerned about the organised campaign against the Arabs of Darfur. The Arabs of Darfur are deeply disturbed by the comments made by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan accuses Arabs of committing atrocities of ethnic cleansing against the non-Arabs in Darfur," Al-Dumuki said.
"[Annan's] remarks fuel the fire rather than helping rivals reach an amicable solution. Arabs constitute more than 55 per cent of Darfur's population and they have been subjected to a relentless campaign comprising unfounded accusations of ethnic cleansing."