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November 22, 2006
Column #1,317
Darfur: Is There An Answer?
by Michael J. McManus

Headlines last week seemed promising: "Sudan agrees to let joint peacekeeping force into Darfur."  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who leaves his post January 1, would like a legacy of sending 20,000 UN peacekeeping troops to Darfur to end a genocide that has killed 200,000 and left 2 million homeless refugees.

U.S. and British leaders hailed the "breakthrough" agreement to implement a UN Security Council resolution passed August 31 with the support of China, a nation which buys most of Sudan's oil. That wealth is funding Sudan's arming of light-skinned Arab janjaweed militias who are the rapists and killers of black-skinned tribes in Darfur, driving millions of homeless into dusty refugee tent camps. Both groups are Muslim.

However, Sudan must agree with sending in troops to fight janjaweed killers it is financing. Not surprisingly, Sudan finds reasons not to defer implementation.  It has tried to limit the numbers coming in to bolster the 7,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers already there.  Then it said any new troops had to be under the control of the ineffectual AU.

The breakthrough was that Sudan finally agreed to a "hybrid" force that would "retain its African charter to the extent possible," a UN spokesman told me. The military commander would have to be jointly approved by the UN and AU, and most of the troops must come from Africa, under strong UN oversight.

One knowledgeable observer found it outrageous that the international community is "negotiating with the perpetrators of genocide."

Mia Farrow, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, told a press conference after visiting the area recently, "Violence has reached well across the border. In eastern Chad, 60 villages have been destroyed since November 4. People are suffering unimaginably. Women described their terror, fleeing Darfur, losing family members along the way." People are "living under trees, not eating for nine days," she said.

What's not been reported is that while Sudan has spent months dithering with UN negotiators, its janjaweed killers have even begun to attack relief convoys to feed the refugees. Several humanitarian workers were killed this summer. Dr. Rowan Gilles, President of Doctors Without Borders (in French, Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF), reports there have been 40 violent security attacks on MSF ranging from banditry to death threats, "forcing the organization to close or reduce staff of the majority of its assistance programs" in one region.

In western Darfur, MSF can no longer refer surgical patients and has had to postpone relief efforts for some 160,000 people living with little access to assistance or medical care.  While those who get into camps, have some level of food and care, "these people have been stuck in these camps for more than 30 months," Dr. Gilles said.

"They cannot go outside the camp to collect the basic necessities of life like food and water because they have a high risk of being killed or raped. And these are supposedly the lucky ones, who were able to get access to some assistance.  There are many places MSF cannot get to because of the security situation, and we simply do not know how these populations are coping."

World Vision, a relief agency active in 100 countries, says the African Union troops "have not helped guarantee security of the humanitarian staff. They are classified as observers," not soldiers providing protection.

What does World Vision think of the UN plan to send in 20,000 troops?  "We are trying to care for those most in need on the ground," sidestepped Rachel Wolff. "We are not politically involved. We are on the ground doing life-saving work. If organizations like ours were not there, thousands would die.

A spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders was more blunt: "We don't want to comment on that, because it could jeopardize our neutrality."

American generosity is the trump card in this battle. Readers have doubtless seen ads by Save Darfur which is supported by 180 mostly religious groups and thousands of Christians and Jews. It is pressuring Congress and the Administration with some impact.

This week the President's Special Envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, said the United States is prepared to move to "Plan B" if no agreement is reached by January 1, when the AU troops are scheduled to leave along with UN's Kofi Annan.  "We need to put a time limit on where this is going."  He did not explain what Plan B is, but added darkly, "Making threats is not a wise thing to do."

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