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Sudan’s Sanctions Deadline Draws Near as Darfur Crisis Continues

August 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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BILL NEELY: Into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis the vast refugee camps of Darfur stretching on and on and on to the ground the man who is the world’s eyes and ears on this catastrophe. Jan Pronk is here to tell the U.N. whether Sudan should be punished for failing to stop the killing in villages like this one.

The villagers screamed their answer, yes. They say the government militias are still killing. U.N. officials tried to calm them. The men told me five from this small village have been killed this week. But the women’s stories are just as shocking.The militias they say are still using rape as a weapon of war among the victims says this woman, little girls. If they’re raped –

MAN: It’s small girls, like six years.

BILL NEELY: Six years old and that’s still happening?

MAN: Yes, it’s still happening.

BILL NEELY: Calda Morandine told me she was raped recently by government militia men, not the only one in this village. How many?

CALDA MORANDINE: Seven of us.

BILL NEELY: Seven women. Their distress is clear. As clear as the axe mark the militias left on this face. So Jan Pronk must decide if Sudan is keeping its promise to reign in its militias and disarm them.

JAN PRONK, U.N. Special Envoy: We definitely are concerned and the reason we are concerned is all the stories which we have heard before, many of these stories have been confirmed, there are many different answers, we want to get all the answers.

BILL NEELY: And Sudan has four days to come up with them. I asked its interior minister why Darfur is still a killing ground.

ABDDRAHIN MOHAMMED HUSSEIN, Interior Minister, Sudan: Now we have a good control all over these security areas.

BILL NEELY: Militias here are able to do whatever they want, when ever they want, to whomever they want. Is this bandit country?

HUSSEIN: It is not a bandit country, definitely. And they are not doing that.

BILL NEELY: But it’s the U.N.’s man who will decide that in the next four days. Fifty thousand are dead here already from violence and hunger. Darfur’s villages are war weary, worried and looking to the world for help.

RAY SUAREZ: With me now is Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize winning author and a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She recently returned from Darfur and wrote an article about her experience for the New Yorker Magazine.

Samantha Power, welcome. You’ve heard the denial from the Sudanese minister, a denial that this was bandit country and that militias were attacking those refugees. What did you see?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I think as your correspondent attests, when you walk now into a refugee camp, whether on the Chad border or when in Darfur you’ll hear the most horrific tales, people come up to you and they’re clamoring, they are desperate to get their stories out and it’s still early enough in the crisis that they believe that if they convey the information to us, the visitors, that that will translate into the kind of international intervention they want.

But like the correspondent, you know, you meet women and they have been raped four or five days before. You know, this is not something where they’re talking about what happened in 2003 or even in May; they’re talking about what happened last week.

RAY SUAREZ: But it’s an odd juxtaposition with the categorical denials that come from every level of the Sudanese government, isn’t it?

SAMANTHA POWER: I don’t know how odd the juxtaposition is. I mean, when governments are either allowing or committing abuses, they’re not usually the first to admit it. There are elements within the Sudanese government I think that are hoping that the Janjaweed are reined in but they define Janjaweed in a very narrow sense. Janjaweed of course means evil men on horseback and it’s the name that’s been given to the Arab militia, the camel riders and horse riders who are going through Darfur on the ground, slaying people and, you know, firing machine gun and rifle at them.

But when the government says we’re going to disarm the Janjaweed, what they’re talking about are not the people that they have armed and funded but rather a small subset of bandits and highway men and robbers that, you know, it would be convenient for them to have off the streets anyway. And I actually visited one of the prisons where Janjaweed had allegedly been, you know, rounded up and walked into the prison and said any of you been convicted for rape. They all said no, none of us are here for rape.

I said, have any of you been convicted in July, because July was when they — the government said it was beginning to make its arrest. They all said, no, and I said well, what about 2004, were any of you rounded up in 2004, and among the 70 that were there before me, or the 65, four of them raised their hand, and one was a hash dealer and two or three were petty thieves. So these are the people that are being branded Janjaweed and rounded up. I don’t think the government has yet demonstrated that it’s serious.

RAY SUAREZ: Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs told a reporter today in Darfur the delivery of relief assistance is now at 100 percent, the police are now deployed in these refugee areas, I see no possible problems in our U.N. evaluation. Has there been a better effort from the Sudanese government; are more people getting help?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, that is true. Beginning around sort of early July, right around the time of Colin Powell’s visit and Kofi Annan’s visit to Darfur, the government became much more forthcoming with travel permits and visas for humanitarian aide workers.

Unfortunately by that time, and perhaps not coincidentally, by that time, the rainy season had already descended so even though you have many more expat or aid workers getting in and more food getting in, it’s extremely difficult to transport that food to the outer reaches of Darfur where people are in need. But it is true that the humanitarian situation and access situation has improved.

What has not improved crucially is the security situation for displaced persons living within the camps, and these again are mainly women; the refugee camp population is about two thirds female; the men have either been killed or have chosen to fights with the rebels, so what you have are women going out to get firewood because all of the humanitarian aid that now is increasingly being delivered, although not at all 100 percent, let me say, but that aid needs to be heated, and the only way you can heat the grains and the corn that you are given is of course to go out and get firewood.

So women are walking further and further away from the camps as the wood supply gets depleted right outside the camps, and of course they’re just sitting ducks and easy prey for the Janjaweed who remain at large patrolling the perimeters of the camps.

RAY SUAREZ: So from what you’re saying it sounds like it’s unlikely the government could meet this Aug. 30 deadline for securing these civilian populations?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I don’t think there’s any question that the government has not disarmed the Janjaweed. I mean, that is a fact. Now what the U.N. representative, Jan Pronk, says is another question. I think probably what he will do is ask for more time, 30 days he will say I’m sure and the Sudanese government would say was too short a time to expect a disarmament of these Arab militias, but I would be much more encouraged if we had seen more progress and more sincerity on the part of the Sudanese government.

One of the major challenges in terms of going through the U.N. right now is how divided the West is and the world is, on the nature of the violence and the nature of the solution. Even major European countries –including France and Germany — are at odds with the United States in terms of perceiving this crisis to be born of an ethnic cleansing onslaught. The French are disputing even that finding; they say it’s just tribal violence which is born I think of their own economic and oil and real politick interests in the country.

At the Security Council, similarly China and Russia are taking a very different position from the United States. The Arab League obviously has taken the side of the Sudanese government and the African Union is split; Nigeria and Rwanda have stepped forward quite heroically and offered several thousand troops of their own to serve as peacekeepers in Darfur in the hopes of helping civilians return to their homes, but they have not been joined by other African countries and until, you know, the western powers and the major powers come together and back the Nigerian and Rwandan initiative, they are likely to just be rebuffed by Sudan with little consequence.

RAY SUAREZ: Did the people you met who had been driven from their homes who told you terrifying stories of when the militias came, give any indication that they would go back to their hometowns if the government told them it was safe to do so?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, not on government assurances alone, they were adamant that they would never trust the government. Keep in mind even though it’s been framed again in the United States and elsewhere as a question of whether or not the government will disarm the Janjaweed.

From the standpoint of the victims it’s not a question of whether the government will disarm the Janjaweed; it’s whether the government will stop attacking civilians because from their perspective, I mean, the truth of the matter is that the government and the Janjaweed have worked hand in hand with the government air force, the Sudanese air force doing the dirty work from the skies, and the Janjaweed and the Sudanese’s army working together on the ground. So they will never trust the Sudanese authorities who they deem responsible for their plight.

Interestingly, they were also very skeptical about African Union troops. They said that the African countries had sided with Sudan at the United Nations they had a remarkable degree of knowledge about, you know, which African countries had sided with Khartoum when — but they also felt that African soldiers would be susceptible to bribes from Sudanese officials. This may be something that — a skepticism that could be overcome as they come to recognize that the African Union is probably the best hope for the return to their homes.

They know that if they stay in the camps they’re just going to have to walk further and further for wood, that the Janjaweed aren’t going anywhere, and that in the long term it’s just not sustainable to be living in what amount to just festering pools of rain and potential disease and malnutrition.

There are so many potential infections lurking about, and when disease strikes in Darfur, which it hasn’t at a major scale yet, it will be like a match that just sets flame to the entire region. A cholera outbreak could bring about a death toll larger than that even of Rwanda from ten years ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Before militias started sweeping people out of Darfur and out of their hometowns, wasn’t Sudan on the verge of peace for the first time in a long time?

SAMANTHA POWER: Yes, I mean I think impressively the Bush administration had taken the initiative of appointing Sen. John Danforth, now the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. but back in 2001 he was appointed President Bush’s envoy for peace in Sudan. And the Danforth initiative along with that of individuals within the State Department and at the White House had very nearly brought about a peace between the government of Khartoum and rebels in the South.

Of course the South is inhabited not only by Muslims and animists, traditional religious practicers, but also Christians and the Christian base in America had put a lot of pressure on President Bush to take leadership and ownership of this process, and they were this close, they really – it was a question it seemed of just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.

But at just the time that a peace deal was coming to a close in terms of the North-South process it was at that time that a rebellion was launched in Darfur and it was at that time that the government of Sudan began arming these Janjaweed militias and began conducting such a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.

But the Bush administration’s desire I think to seal the deal on the North-South process, which again would have had a profound humanitarian positive consequence, made it sort of want to deny that Darfur was happening for the better part of a year — there was just almost wishing it away.

And really only in about April of this year I think did senior officials just finally say look if this government is murdering people and teaming up with the Janjaweed and systematically ethnically cleansing you know a million, a million and a half people, can we really rely upon it to see through the North-South peace process– probably not. So let’s see if we can fix Darfur and then we’ll turn back to the North-South deal

RAY SUAREZ: Samantha Power from Harvard’s Kennedy School, thanks for joining us.

SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you. Ray.