Sudan's refugees

Sunday, August 1, 2004

The (London) Guardian

All the conditions exist for a humanitarian disaster. Over a million malnourished and hungry refugees, in crowded, unsanitary camps where they are prey to diarrhea, cholera and dysentery. A conflict between the Islamist government of Khartoum and rebels in Sudan's Darfur province, in which the government is accused of using Janjaweed Arab militiamen to carry out an organized campaign of killing and rape. A war in which 30,000 people have already died. Refugees terrified that they are about to be forcibly relocated from the camps back to their villages. Heavy rains about to arrive, washing away dirt track roads and cutting off a region the size of France. Is another Rwanda taking place before our eyes? ...

African villagers have died in greater numbers than Iraqis at the height of the war, only this disaster has taken place slowly and largely off camera, in a remote part of the world. It is still taking place. As Kofi Annan and Mr. (Colin) Powell breeze in and out of Khartoum, the Janjaweed continue to attack anyone who dares venture outside the dubious collective protection of the camps. And the international response is to wait and see what happens in a month's time. It is either a shrewd use of diplomatic pressure, or a reason for inaction that could cost hundreds of thousands more lives. Few observers believe that the ancient ethnic rivalry which underlies this, and campaigns like that unleashed against the mountain Nuba of central Sudan eight years ago, will simply vanish into the night. If they survive the rains of August, over 1 million refugees in Darfur and neighboring Chad will be marooned in 100 camps, unable to return to their burned out homes. If the U.N. is unwilling to intervene, then it should fund a substantial African Union force that does.

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