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Darfur Violence Spills Into Neighboring Chad

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Darfur Violence Spills Into Neighboring Chad

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Darfur Violence Spills Into Neighboring Chad

Darfur Violence Spills Into Neighboring Chad

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Government troops using tanks and attack helicopters repelled a rebel assault on the capital of the central African nation of Chad on Thursday. The president says he blames Sudan because the Darfur crisis has spilled over into his country. Madeleine Brand speaks with John Prendergast of the International Crisis group about how the genocide in Sudan and the fighting in Chad are connected.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, children going back to school in New Orleans, but what happened to this classrooms?

BRAND: First this, the U.N. Security Council and the African Union have set an April 30 deadline for a ceasefire between the government of Sudan and rebel forces in Darfur. The crisis is now moving across the border and threatening neighboring Chad.

CHADWICK: Yesterday afternoon we spoke with John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Senior Advisor, International Crisis Group): As we speak, the Chadian rebels have broken through the Chadian government's defenses in Eastern Chad and are marching on the capital. The government of Chad has been accused by the Sudanese government of supporting the rebels, the Darfurian rebels that are fighting against the Sudanese government.

In response, as any government would, the Sudanese government has started to support a number of Chadian rebel groups in order to in effect create a proxy war and support rebellion in Chad. So what we have in effect is two governments, the Chadian government and the Sudanese government, supporting rebels to overthrow each other's governments. And the Sudanese government has far more resources and far more military assets to call upon, so we're seeing the strategic balance shift in their favor; and they've unleashed these Chadian militias to undertake an attack on the capital, and that's what we're seeing unfold today.

BRAND: Meanwhile, in Abuja, Nigeria, peace talks continue between Sudan's government and the Darfur rebels. The conflict has cost as many as a quarter million lives, mostly refugees suffering from disease and malnutrition. I asked John Prendergast about the likelihood an agreement by the end of the month would be reached.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think they might come to an agreement around a ceasefire, sort of a version of a ceasefire that may not pass muster on the ground in terms of protecting civilians in Darfur, but it will at least make all the diplomats happy enough to go away patting themselves on the back. The fundamental problems remain though in Darfur. The government continues to wage this extraordinary counterinsurgency campaign that some call genocide. And I think that what's happening in Abuja now at these peace talks is not getting at the core of that, and thus the larger problems, the larger clouds hanging over Darfur will not be disbursed.

BRAND: Well, let's talk about those peace talks. You mentioned the Abuja peace talks. Tell us about that. What's going on there?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: The government and the rebels have been in dialogue at the behest of the African Union, which has taken the lead in these talks for a year and a half now. Inconclusively. They've managed to agree to almost nothing. In fact, the government's position has backtracked from its initial position at the talks.

So we're going nowhere fast. In fact, we're going backwards slowly. And so I think that at this point there was a decision reached out of desperation that they'd all of a sudden put a deadline on the peace talks of April 30, which is ridiculously unrealistic, and it just demonstrates just kind of the flailing nature of diplomacy of the international community at this juncture.

BRAND: Doesn't the U.S. have competing interest in Sudan in that the CIA needs the government there in Khartoum to help it in the War on Terror?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah. That's a very, very important reason why we haven't seen the kind of robust action that matches the rhetoric surrounding Darfur, is this history of hosting Osama bin Laden during the 1990's in Khartoum. And so now, in the aftermath of September 11, as the government of Sudan has effectively switched sides in order to preserve itself and is now cooperating in the war on terror, they have a great deal of valuable information about a number of suspects around the world, and they share that information when we ask them. So it's perceived to be a valuable relationship, and it has been an obstacle to stronger action on the part of the United States.

BRAND: In Darfur it's been called a genocide. And since this began three years ago, how many people have been killed?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Right now, the estimates range anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 people in Darfur. We talk about this situation in Darfur as a Rwanda in slow motion. This has been genocide by attrition. Now the choice tactic of the Sudanese government is to restrict humanitarian access so that all these Sudanese people living in displaced camps and refugee camps slowly bleed to death, dying of malnutrition and diseases related to malnutrition.

So we're seeing a less dramatic unfolding of the crisis in Darfur than there was in Rwanda, but it's equally deadly.

BRAND: John Prendergast is a Senior Advisor to the International Crisis Group. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Thank you, Madeleine.

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