Violence in Sudan Spilling into Neighboring Countries
ED GORDON, host:
Now, Farai looks to Western Sudan, where the fighting has spilled over the border into neighboring Chad. There is fear that this smoldering crisis could blow up into a regional war between the two countries. She spoke with NPR's West African correspondent Ofeibia Quist-Arcton.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
You were obviously on scene. What is going on?
OFEIBIA QUIST-ARCTON (NPR West African Correspondent): In N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, is now quiet. But two weeks ago, there was a lighting rebel raid on this city. The first time the rebels, who are fighting President Idriss Deby, had reached the capital. Now, they didn't manage to capture the city, but they did frighten a lot of people, including the president's camp, although they managed to run the rebels out of town.
President Idriss Deby has accused his neighbor Sudan of backing the Chadian rebels, of sponsoring them and arming them. So he says, not only has Sudan exported the conflict in Darfur across the border, but it's now trying to topple him using these rebels, who he calls traitors and mercenaries.
CHIDEYA: If we can put this in context, if you imagine the U.S. and Mexico, and obviously we are not the same nation, but we share a border; we're friendly. And if one country invaded the other, it would be seen as a complete turnaround of affairs. Did the Sudan's Islamic government help bring the president of Chad into power 10 years ago?
QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely. A lot of people are saying déjà vu. Fifteen years ago, December, 1990 Idriss Deby launched his rebellion from Sudan with the blessing and the backing of President Omar Hasan al-Bashir, the Sudanese leader. And now he is accusing the same former ally of backing his current enemies. So it is a real change of circumstances.
But let me say that Sudan denied aiding the rebels. Although we've had this week in Chad, Donald Yamamoto, Jendayi Frazer's deputy at the State Department, the number two in charge of Africa, saying there appears to be evidence that Sudan is giving logistical help and safe haven to the rebels. So you have Sudan denying it and the rest of the world saying you appear to be helping. But you also have the Khartoum government in Sudan, accusing President Deby of backing the Darfur rebels who say they are intent on toppling President al-Bashir.
So it is a right royal mess. And of course, the people who are suffering most are civilians--both sides of the border--because they are the ones who are displaced, who were driven from their homes, and who have been killed in the hundreds of thousands in Darfur. And now Chadians even, being displaced at the border, because they say they're being attacked by Sudanese Janjawid militia.
CHIDEYA: So, if I understand you correctly, people have fled from the Sudan into Chad, and they thought they were going to be safe. And instead what's happened, is that the Janjawid militia has crossed the border and tried to attack, not only these Sudanese refugees, but the people who actually are Chadian citizens.
QUIST-ARCTON: The people who are currently most at risk are the Chadians. The Sudanese are 100-plus miles from the Chad/Sudan border. They're already in refugee camps. So if we can put it that way, they are relatively stable, although the conditions are not ideal. Although there were reports of rebels actually attacking one camp two weeks ago. But it's the Chadians now--55,000 of them, in villages spread all along a very lone, sandy, dusty border between Chad and Sudan--who have been displaced from their villages, they say, by Janjawid militia, i.e. Sudanese-backed militia, and also by Chadian thugs, as opposed to the Chadian rebels. So it is becoming a huge mess. And President Deby here, is saying the international community has turned a deaf ear. They have been protesting from the Chadian side, protestations which have gone unheard, and now look what has happened.
CHIDEYA: You have obviously covered Africa for some time. You're very experienced in the continent. Your ancestry is Ghanaian. What do you expect, based on your experience, to happen, in terms of the international community addressing this issue? So far people are saying, we're going to do something, but they're not doing anything. At what point can we expect action? And what type?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, that's exactly what refugees, displaced people, and others are saying. When are they going to come to our help? Washington called what's happening in Darfur genocide, but more then a year ago. But nobody has moved in, but there are problems. You've got to have some sort of give and take. The Sudanese government is saying it doesn't want a UN force in Darfur. It wants it to remain and African Union force. The African Union force is clearly under funded and doesn't even have the mandate or the arms to be able to protect refugees, displaced people, or humanitarian workers. So I think, really, the United Nations, along with the U.S., the West, and especially the African Union, has got to rap knuckles and say to all sides, this has to stop. And all this, it's innocent civilians, children, women, old people--these are the people suffering. There may be a quarrel between the president in one country and his presidential neighbor in another, but that is second to the suffering of the people, and that must be the priority. But it really does need international help. If it's left to Sudan and Chad, it's not going to happen now.
CHIDEYA: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa Correspondent. Thank you. Ofeibea.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.
(Soundbite of music)
ED GORDON, host:
That was NPR's Farai Chideya. Coming up next, the White House chooses a conservative journalist to replace its outgoing spin doctor, and a movie recreates the downing of United flight 93. We'll discuss those topics and more on our roundtable.
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