Violence on the Rise Again in Darfur

Sudan's troubled Darfur region is again the center of rapidly escalating violence. Smith College professor Eric Reeves tells Linda Wertheimer that a badly constructed peace deal has crumbled and that genocide looms.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan has killed several hundred thousand people and driven two and a half million from their homes, and now the fighting appears to be intensifying.

The Sudanese government has stepped up air and ground attacks on villages in Darfur in recent weeks. It also has rejected a U.N. Security Council offer of peacekeepers to replace the smaller African Union force scheduled to leave at the end of the month.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is an expert on the Sudan. He joins us from the college. Mr. Reeves, welcome.

Professor ERIC REEVES (Smith College): Good to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: The Sudanese government reached a peace agreement last May with one of the main rebel groups in Darfur, so why does the violence there appear to be escalating?

Prof. REEVES: The Darfur peace agreement signed on May 5th in Abuja, Nigeria was so deeply flawed that it had no chance of success. Only one of the rebel factions signed on with the government of Sudan: the National Islamic Front, a.k.a. National Congress Party. And the rebel faction that signed on, led by Mini Minawi, is not representative of the people as a whole.

And the agreement was dramatically inadequate both in compensation for the victims of this genocide and in providing realistic security arrangements. For that reason it was rejected by the much more representative Sudan Liberation Army faction of Abda Wahid Amnoor(ph).

And what we see now are the consequences of these deep divisions within the rebels and the fact that Khartoum never had any intention of abiding by the terms of the Abuja agreement.

WERTHEIMER: Now, why does the Sudanese government object to having a U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan? Why are they resisting that?

Prof. REEVES: This government has made clear its genocidal ambitions in Darfur from the very beginning. This is genocide with a purpose, though. It is genocide as counter-insurgency warfare. And Khartoum is now convinced that he can complete its genocidal destruction if unfettered.

A robust, well-mandated U.N. force would provide a real obstacle to that. Presently the only international presence in Darfur is a very weak, demoralized, indeed crumbling African Union force with no mandate to protect civilians, hunkering down. Khartoum simply ignores them.

WERTHEIMER: Does the international community have any leverage at this point to get the U.N. in there or do anything else to try to avert the genocide they're carrying out?

Prof. REEVES: It comes down to a question of whether or not the international community is going to continue to respect Khartoum's adamant claims of national sovereignty. It's on that basis that they are rejecting a U.N. force. We have an appropriate resolution but only insofar as we ignore its extraordinary deference to Khartoum's claim of national sovereignty.

But the question is squarely before us now and I think there's no place to hide. If we do not intervene, if we do not provide the means of protecting civilians and humanitarians, hundreds of thousands of people will die. Are we prepared to see 500,000 become 800,000, equaling the Rwandan genocide?

We're going to look back years from now and wonder how on Earth it could be that, seeing so clearly what was impending, we did nothing.

WERTHEIMER: Eric Reeves researches and analyzes Sudan and the crisis in Darfur. He is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and he joined us from there. Thanks very much.

Prof. REEVES: My pleasure, Linda. Thanks very much to you.

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