Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Darfur: Too Little, Too Late?

The quasi-genocidal crisis in Darfur is finally getting a bit of renewed attention from the rest of the world, but it's not clear it's happening fast enough to make a difference.

In case you've forgotten Darfur because it hasn't been in the headlines much, more than 300,000 people have probably died there since the government of Sudan unleashed a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in 2003 designed to squash an insurgency loosely linked to the Southern Sudan forces Khartoum was trying to outmaneuver in negotiations to end the long-running North-South civil war. Just as importantly, more than two million Darfurians have been displaced by the fighting, and are hemmed into refugee camps with no means of subsistence other than food shipments from international organizations.

And while the direct violence against Darfurians by the Khartoum-paid-and-trained Janjaweed militias has abated somewhat, the strategy of keeping them penned up under atrocious conditions is doing the Grim Reaper's work as efficiently as the previous kill-and-rape raids on hundreds of villages.

That's why, as Eric Reeves explained on The New Republic's site yesterday, the most immediate threat to Darfur stems from Janjaweed attacks on the international humanitarian aid organizations that are literally serving as Darfur's lifeline. Some are already withdrawing personnel from Darfur, and others may soon follow, given the general recognition that African Union peacekeeping forces are incapable of providing security in the region, and no one else is on the scene.

But as always in Darfur, there's a lot of political fog distorting a clear picture of the situation.

There are ongoing if sluggish negotiations underway between Khartoum and the two insurgent groups it is supposedly fighting in Darfur: the Fur-tribal-based Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), and the Islamist Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Unfortunately, as the Kofi Annan statement I just linked to shows, these negotiations are helping feed the idea that this is a civil war or "ethnic conflict" where both sides are equally to blame for the death and destruction, and where the rest of the world can legitimately step aside as the parties to the dispute wrangle through a settlement.

The only bright note recently was the voice-vote passage by the U.S. Senate of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which would recommit our government to an end to the disaster in Darfur; pledge immediate military support to an expansion of the AU deployment; and place sanctions on the government of Sudan, including seizure of oil shipments and withdrawal of travel rights for Khartoum officials, until such time as it releashes the Janjaweed and starts cooperating with humanitarian agencies.

The bill still needs to get scheduled in the House, which in an obscure committee action stripped out previously approved funds to support an expanded AU peacekeeping mission. And that's a good example of what's wrong in this whole debate. Nobody will come out and say they don't want to take action in Darfur, but the Bush administration officials who are so appreciative of Khartoum's assistance in the War on Terror are obviously helping slow down any binding congressional action that would complicate things for them. Today New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped shine a spotlight on this subterranean but effective strategy.

The whole situation reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a veteran Georgia State Patrol trooper who used to work traffic accidents in a rural community. The ambulance service there was provided by a local undertaker, who got paid a small fee for hauling accident victims to the hospital, but who got the burying rights if the victims died. So, said my informant, the ambulance driver would pick up the grievously injured passengers and then head off towards the hospital, lights flashing and sirens screaming, at about 15 miles per hour.

That's what the U.S. and international mission to "save" Darfur looks like to me right now.
-- Posted at 5:25 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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