TOPICS: Sudan falters as US rethinks aid

A year ago, the House of Representatives passed a resolution inviting the US to call the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region a genocide. President Bush complied, and international action was taken to stop militia violence against Darfur’s black African minority, including deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force. But earlier this month a House committee — in a budget-cutting mode and amid what Darfur experts say is a mistaken sense that violence in the traumatised region has been quelled — voted to trim the $50 million that lawmakers had approved earlier in the year for the African Union force.

“Congress should be ashamed of itself,” says Jonathan Morganstein, who co-wrote a new report on Darfur by Refugees International. Citing the now-famous case of pork barrel funding for “bridges to nowhere” in recent transportation appropriations, he adds, “For less than 15 per cent of [the bridges’ cost] we can help stave off this genocide. “The report finds after recent on-the-ground investigations that the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) is losing control because of a weak mandate, poor equipment and inadequate troop numbers. And it’s facing increased attacks itself. The report concludes that the situation for Darfur’s uprooted and besieged population is deteriorating once again.

AMIS “is failing,” says Sally Chin, the report’s co-author. Donors like the US are neglecting their pledges to fund the force, she says, and as a result, humanitarian groups are being forced to abandon their work. “The situation is getting much worse.” She notes that displacements are rising again — one-third of the population of six million is already uprooted — and that whole sections of the population are cut off from international aid and surveillance. This is especially true since AMIS has not reached its intended level of 12,500 troops.

The situation did appear to improve early in the summer, Morganstein says, which may explain why international attention has trailed off. Last year’s congressional action was taken after Darfur became a featured cause of conservative Christian groups concerned about

“persecution” of one of Africa’s largest Christian minority populations. The report says more pressure and action are needed by both the US and the UN. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was in Nairobi, Kenya, last week to convene talks among Darfur anti-government rebels. But the result was more a picture of the level of discord among feuding factions than a move toward unity against the government in Khartoum.

The poor prospects for peace make measures to safeguard the Darfur population only more urgent, humanitarian aid groups say. According to Morganstein, AMIS is trying to accomplish what UN peacekeeping missions did in Bosnia and Kosovo — only with fewer soldiers protecting a larger population over a much larger territory. AMIS currently has fewer than 5,000 soldiers to cover an area the size of Texas. — The Christian Science Monitor