As the British prime minister Tony Blair and the Britainâ€™s finance minister Gordon Brown gear up for next monthâ€™s G8 summit, with its focus on Africa, the crisis of Darfur appears unlikely to get more than a passing mention. Nor is Bob Geldofâ€™s new crusade for Africa focused on it.
Yet Darfur is arguably a greater catastrophe than Ethiopia was when Live Aid held its fund-raising concerts 20 years ago. In Ethiopia massive famine coincided with civil war, but the famine was caused by drought. War complicated the relief effort, but was not the primary problem. In Sudanâ€™s western region of Darfur the crisis is man-made. Civil war has created famine. As Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, pointed out on a visit to refugee camps recently, two million of the regionâ€™s six million people have fled their homes because of attacks. Even if they felt safe to go home, there is nothing there to eat. Less than a third of the arable land was planted this season. Vast quantities of food will be needed for at least a year, both for people in the camps and in the villages, if they return. It can only come from donations. Of course, it is still too dangerous for most people to leave the camps. Rape and pillage go on unabated, as horseback raiders known as Janjaweed continue their ethnic cleansing. The Sudanese government has consistently denied responsibility, claiming the militias are beyond its control.
The situation has shown some improvement since early last year when the raids began on a large scale and the outside world slowly took note. The Sudanese government allowed the African Union to send a force of just over 2,000 troops as monitors. They are not peace-keepers and have no right to stop violations. But reports from the ground say their presence has had a restraining effect in the few places where they are deployed. International pressure has forced the government in Khartoum to give permits for UN relief agencies, aid workers and journalists to work in what was previously an almost closed region. As a result, the threat of famine has been partially contained for now, as those people who have managed to get to camps inside Sudan or across the border in Chad have access to food and medicine. The United Nations Security Council has taken some useful action. An inquiry identified 51 people thought to be behind the killing and the use of rape as a deliberate weapon of war. On a sealed list, the names have been given to the new International Criminal Court after the United States, which still refuses to work with the ICC, agreed not to veto the move. The ICC will take time to prepare the case, but by lifting the sense of impunity its intervention should help to deter new crimes.
The United Nations is also pressing the Sudanese government and Darfurâ€™s two rebel movements to resume peace talks. They now promise to do so in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, next week. But signs of deterioration also abound. Visas for outsiders have become harder to get, and the other day the government accused two staff members of Medecins sans Frontieres of â€œspyingâ€ and â€œfalsifying informationâ€ after they published a report on rapes by militias. Top UN officials sprang to their aid, saying they too have evidence of mass rape. The government has not backed down. War creates general chaos, and reports are emerging of rape unconnected with the governmentâ€™s militia. Women and girls are suffering abuse in the refugee camps in Darfur which are supposed to be sanctuaries, as are women who have fled to Chad. Banditry is on the rise as marauders rob World Food Programme lorries. Clashes are breaking out between ethnic groups opposed to the government. â€œThere is hardly any fighting any more between the two main partiesâ€”the government and its armed militias on one hand and the Darfur rebels on the other. This is bad news for conflict resolution. The Abuja peace process will not be sufficient,â€™â€™ Dominik Stillhart, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan, said the other day. â€œWhat will be required is tribal reconciliation.â€
The best single measure to relieve the deepening crisis would be rapid enlargement of the African Unionâ€™s monitoring force, and a new mandate for it to confront the gunmen rather than merely make reports. Other foreign troops are not needed, nor is Nato. â€œNato cannot be the worldâ€™s gendarme,â€ as the French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, rightly put it. But Britain, France and other countries with African experience should provide helicopters, transport and armoured cars to help the AU. Ultimately, the main responsibility rests with the government of Sudan. The people of Darfur are its citizens. Unless Khartoum wants another 20 years of civil war and the prospect of secessionâ€”as it had in the south until last yearâ€™s peace agreement thereâ€”it must rein in the Janjaweed and work hard in Abuja to make the peace talks bear fruit. â€”The Guardian