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Darfur Violence Pits Sudan Against the U.N.

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Darfur Violence Pits Sudan Against the U.N.

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Darfur Violence Pits Sudan Against the U.N.

Darfur Violence Pits Sudan Against the U.N.

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Violence in Sudan's Darfur region continued this week as militia men attacked refugee camps and killed scores of civilians, including 27 children. The U.S. and the U.N. have so far been unable to get Sudan to agree to a credible protection force for civilians in Darfur, or work out a credible peace agreement accepted by all parties.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's been more than two years since President Bush labeled the crisis in Darfur a genocide. Yet the militia attacks on civilians in the western region of Sudan continue. The United Nations reports scores of civilians, including two dozen children, were killed in attacks earlier this week. The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, again called on the Sudanese government to take steps to end the violence.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, there seems little the international community can do.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When President Bush sat down with his envoy to Sudan this week, he sounded frustrated with recent U.S. dealings with the Islamic government in Khartoum.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The government of Sudan must understand that we're serious when you deliver a message to them on behalf of our government that we're earnest and serious.

KELEMEN: As it turns out, Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, refused to meet Mr. Bush's envoy, Andrew Natsios. The government also recently kicked out U.N. special envoy, Jan Pronk, for writing about Darfur on his blog. All this comes as U.S. and U.N. officials acknowledge they're having trouble getting Sudan to accept U.N. peacekeepers. Natsios said in a podcast on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Web site that international diplomats are now considering other options.

Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan): Our real interest here is not what it's called or what it looks in terms of its helmet but how robust and how efficient it is.

KELEMEN: The idea is to have Arab states and the U.N. bolster the ill-equipped African Union force on the ground. Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter who's credited with making Darfur a priority at the White House, says it will be hard to make such a force effective. He's also disappointed to see diplomats going out of their way to make an international force acceptable to the same government the U.S. accused of genocide.

Mr. MICHAEL GERSON (Former White House Speechwriter): It's a very hard thing for me to take. You know, when you're on the ground, as I've been, in the camps, you immediately think, why can't we just intervene? Why can't the United States just put boots on the ground? But of course that would create a lot of opportunity for Islamist mischief. I think it would maybe in a certain way play into Bashir's hands.

KELEMEN: As the debate about a security force continues, the conflict is getting worse. And the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, says aid workers and civilians are getting caught in the crossfire in an increasingly complex war.

Mr. JAN EGELAND (Undersecretary General, Humanitarian Affairs, U.N.): We as humanitarians are now resigning to the fact that we will have to hang in there by our fingernails still for months to come before there might be a stronger security force.

KELEMEN: In the meantime, Egeland is encouraging negotiators to reopen talks on a peace deal to get more support from the local population in Darfur. Only a fairly marginal rebel group signed the peace agreement in May, and the fighting has only intensified since then, with civilians again suffering the most. Egeland says the rebels are strong enough only to prove that the issues can't be resolved on the battlefield.

Mr. EGELAND: There is no military solution. There is only a settlement that would be political, cultural, economic, between nomads, between farmers, between the tribes, between the Arabs, between the Africans who have been so hard hit by the ethnic cleansing.

KELEMEN: Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, says if Darfur isn't resolved, the Bush administration's other initiatives in Africa will simply be overshadowed.

Mr. GERSON: This is, you know, one of those places in the world where the conscience of the world is tested and engaged and where failure would have a harsh historical judgment.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: And you can read a history of the Darfur conflict at NPR.org.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Scarce Resources, Ethnic Strife Fuel Darfur Conflict

An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region i

An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region of Darfur, Sudan, June 2006. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in August to replace the A.U. forces with more than 20,000 U.N. troops, but Sudan's president opposes the move. Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images
An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region

An African Union soldier patrols a camp for the internally displaced in the war-torn western region of Darfur, Sudan, June 2006. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in August to replace the A.U. forces with more than 20,000 U.N. troops, but Sudan's president opposes the move.

Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images
Darfur map i

Darfur, a region in western Sudan, borders the Central African Republic, Libya and Chad. Darfur is the site of an ongoing, Muslim-on-Muslim conflict between black African tribes and Arab-speaking populations. Many of those displaced by the fighting have fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad. Melody Kokoszka, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Melody Kokoszka, NPR
Darfur map

Darfur, a region in western Sudan, borders the Central African Republic, Libya and Chad. Darfur is the site of an ongoing, Muslim-on-Muslim conflict between black African tribes and Arab-speaking populations. Many of those displaced by the fighting have fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad.

Melody Kokoszka, NPR

About the Author

Before joining NPR's foreign desk as an editor in 2001, Didrik Schanche was a newspaper and wire service reporter. From 1987-94, she was The Associated Press' East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army

Rebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army play cards in a house in a deserted village in northern Darfur, May 2006. This branch of the SLA refused to sign the peace deal concluded in May between Sudan's government and another SLA faction, led by Minni Minnawi. Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images

The deadly conflict in Darfur has deep roots in a vast, arid and long-neglected region in Sudan's west, where battles over water and grazing rights stretch back generations.

The demographic shift that plays out across Africa's north helps feed the conflict. Darfur is on the leading edge of the continental demographic divide, where sub-Saharan black Africa melds with Arabic-speaking populations. And in this Muslim-on-Muslim battle in Darfur, it is the civilians who suffer.

The current hostilities erupted in early 2003, when two rebel groups - The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - attacked government targets, claiming that the predominantly African region was being neglected by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. The rebel movements - from different ideological backgrounds - cooperated in their fight against the government.

But during peace talks in 2006, the rebels went their separate ways. The SLA, led by Minni Minnawi, signed the accord, while the JEM, led by Mohammed Tugod, did not. Since then, the insurgents have splintered and there are now more than 20 offshoots of these groups.

Long-Standing Ethnic Tensions

Tension between the region's African farmers and Arab pastoralists has existed for decades. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, described the roots of the conflict.

"To outsiders, the conflict is seen as tribal warfare. At its roots, though, it is a struggle over controlling an environment that can no longer support all the people who must live on it," she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

A sense of inequity was exacerbated by years of official Sudanese government support for groups in the region who identified themselves as Arab. An administrative reorganization in 1994 divided the vast territory into three regions and put Arabs in positions of power.

The black African tribes - the Fur, Zagawa and Masalit - found themselves increasingly marginalized. People in Darfur refer to themselves as "black," and many Darfuris say that the dispute with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum is ethnically based. Droughts and diminishing resources ignited regular communal hostilities, which came to a head with the rebel assaults in 2003.

A Scorched-Earth Response

The government responded with a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels and the tribes they came from. The Sudanese government used aerial bombardments, while government-backed Janjaweed militia attacked civilians on the ground. Janjaweed come from Arabic-speaking pastoralist communities. They herd camels in northern Darfur and cattle in southern Darfur.

The attacks razed villages, resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands - most as the result of disease and starvation - and displaced millions of people, many of whom fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad. The Janjaweed have been accused of the systematic rape and ethnic cleansing of Darfur's black residents. Sudan's government denies it supports the militia.

Shaky Peace Deals Fail to Stem Violence

The African Union brokered a shaky truce between the government and the rebels in May 2004 and sent a small force of military observers to monitor the pact. But violence continued. Citing a "consistent and widespread" pattern of atrocities, the United States in September 2004 accused Sudan's government and Janjaweed militia of genocide.

The African Union troops were bulked up to a force that eventually numbered 7,000. But the soldiers were badly outnumbered and outgunned. Funding problems mean they often went weeks without pay. Their weak mandate, combined with poor resources and insufficient numbers to patrol a region the size of France, left them incapable of halting abuses.

Fighting escalated as rebel factions splintered and new insurgent groups were formed. Civilians continued to suffer attacks from insurgents, government forces and Janjaweed militia.

In June 2007, Sudan bowed to international pressure and agreed to a detailed plan by the African Union and the United Nations to send a joint peacekeeping force of nearly 26,000 troops to Darfur. But by late 2007, that force still had not been assembled — due in part to the logistics involved in assembling such a force and also, say some, on bureaucratic roadblocks thrown up by Sudan's government.

In September, 10 African Union troops were killed when rebels overran their camp.

In a renewed effort to forge peace in Darfur, Libya invited all parties to the conflict to African Union-United Nations mediated talks in Sirte, Libya, at the end of October. But those talks foundered over the absence of the key rebel leaders, the SLA's Abdul Wahid Mohammed el-Nur and the Islamic Justice and Equality Movement's Khalil Ibrahim.

Aid Efforts Snarled by Ongoing Violence

Throughout this conflict, international aid groups have worked to care for Darfur's victims. But continuing attacks have made their jobs increasingly difficult. More than a dozen employees of international aid organizations have been killed in the violence. The lack of security has forced many relief organizations out of the region altogether, and limited access for those that have stayed.

One of the most difficult things about providing assistance to the people of Darfur is just getting there. Darfur sits in the middle of the continent, just below the Sahara Desert. Ships carrying food aid for Darfur are docking at ports on three sides of the continent, in Cameroon on the Atlantic, in Libya on the Mediterranean and to the east at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Once the food gets to Africa, it has to be trucked over land in all-terrain vehicles to refugee camps in Chad and Sudan. During the rainy seasons, the land becomes impassable.

The U.S. government remains one of the biggest donors of humanitarian aid to Darfur.

Bush Administration's Response to Darfur

The Bush White House became the first and only government to label the conflict in Darfur as genocide in September 2006 when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We concluded — I concluded — that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and Janjaweed bear responsibility and genocide may still be occurring," he said.

President Bush named former USAID administrator Andrew Natsios as special envoy to Sudan, in an effort to get greater weight behind an international peacekeeping force and maintain momentum on peace mediation efforts. However, the situation is little changed. Civilians continue to be killed and uprooted in violence that has only escalated with time. And those committing the violence remain largely unpunished.

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