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Violence Spills from Darfur into Chad

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Violence Spills from Darfur into Chad

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Violence Spills from Darfur into Chad

Violence Spills from Darfur into Chad

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Melissa Block talks with New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. Kristof just returned from eastern Chad, where he was reporting on the violence that has spread there from Darfur. Kristof has chastised the international community for its lack of action in the region; the United Nations has recognized the events as genocide.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

In Ethiopia today, negotiators reached a deal in principle for a new peacekeeping force for Sudan's Darfur region. It could number 27,000 troops, including the African Union soldiers that are already there. Sudan would still have to agree to allow this force into the region, something it's refused in the past.

The violence that has plagued Darfur is spilling over to neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. Aid workers say hundreds of Chadians have been killed in the last 10 days. They were attacked by Arab gunmen, the militias known as Janjaweed.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is just back from Chad. He went to a hospital and town there asking people about these latest attacks.

Mr. NICHOLAS KRISTOF (Columnist, New York Times): They described exactly the same kind of attacks that I've seen in Darfur itself. You've got a large group of gunmen - maybe 100, maybe 200 - arriving on horses, on camels, and sometimes in these large vehicles with heavy machine guns mounted. And they start shooting. There's a particular effort to kill men, but also some women and children. And then they burn all the huts.

There's been a level of kind of really horrific violence in the latest attacks, including, you know, a man with eyes gouged out by the Janjaweed, old people burned alive in their huts. I mean there's - even if you've seen a lot of these attacks in Sudan and in Chad as well, there's just a level of brutality to these latest attacks that just really takes you aback and stuns you.

BLOCK: You write that some of the victims told you what the attackers said to them as they were carrying out these attacks.

Mr. KRISTOF: Yeah. And it's the same kind of racial epithets that you hear all over Darfur. People are called insults against blacks and they're told that, you know, you blacks have no right to live in this land. You blacks are like monkeys. This is our land, Arab land. The slogans are exactly the same over a broad area of Chad and they're also exactly the same as those that occurred in Darfur, itself.

BLOCK: Are the Janjaweed coming from Sudan, crossing the border, or are they from Chad or both?

Mr. KRISTOF: Well, Sudan denies it, but the people themselves - the victims -say that they recognize a few of the attackers as local Chadians, but that most of the people wear Sudanese military uniforms, in effect. And my very strong impression certainly is that by and large these are the same gangs of Janjaweed that have been attacking all over Darfur and that now they've been instructed to cross over into Chad. They've taken on some local people to continue their rampages in Chad.

BLOCK: And if that's the case, what would the motivation be to do that?

Mr. KRISTOF: I think the motivation is to destabilize Chad and probably to overthrow the government of Chad. There is a pretty close parallel to what Sudan did to Uganda in the past. That Sudan sponsored a proxy army, which engaged in absolutely brutal atrocities in northern Uganda and now Sudan seems to be doing the same thing to Chad.

BLOCK: Nick you've made a lot of trips to the region, have really spent a lot of time focusing on what's going on in Darfur and now writing about what's happening across the border in Chad, how did things seem different to you this time?

Mr. KRISTOF: One of the constraints I find as a journalist is that you want to write about what is new and what is different. And for three years now I find myself writing about the same thing. And the only real news is that it ends up covering a larger and larger area and that because of the indifference of the world it goes on and on.

I talked to one young woman on this trip, who initially was targeted in March and she was gang-raped by the Janjaweed, at that time, and her 10-year-old sister was raped and then killed. This young woman - Hilema(ph) - then fled further inland into Chad where she thought she was going to be safe.

But now the Janjaweed have followed her even into that area and last month she was seized again and gang-raped again. You just have the feeling that this is going to go on and, you know, maybe topple all of Chad and all of Central African Republic until finally the world eventually does confront this kind of thing.

BLOCK: Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, thanks very much.

Mr. KRISTOF: Thank you.

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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 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

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Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images

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, 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

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Melody Kokoszka, NPR

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 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

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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.