Thursday, October 05, 2006

Three Things On Darfur

From the daily newsletter.

1. Some 130km (80 miles) north of El Fashir, the administrative capital of North Darfur, lies Kutum. It is a desolate landscape, and that sense of desolation is shared by the African Union troops posted here. They are sent to patrol the airstrip or ride in convoys through the market, in an effort to be a "presence" and give some reassurance to people who call this home. This is the territory where the Janjaweed - the Arab militia - roam, and 5km (3 miles) north of Kutum is where a handful of militia groups are now fighting for territory. It is a civil war that, since the signing of a peace deal back in May, has grown far more complex. Twenty-one women and girls have been raped in Kassab camp in the past two weeks - 21 of them! It is a staggering figure that gives some insight into the vulnerability of areas where peacekeepers are absent. One of the victims, Hawa, clutching a baby to her breast, relived her ordeal. "I left the camp with two other girls, to get grasses for the donkeys," she remembers. "Along the way we met more than four men with guns. One of them grabbed my arms and another one grabbed my legs. They said they would kill me if I didn't co-operate." She was raped in broad daylight, the way it often happens here.

2. One corner of Sudan's violent Darfur region is green and peaceful in this post-rainy season thanks to a powerful village militia that has kept the fighting around it at bay for more than a year. At the center of a coalition of neutral villages that unites more than 10,000 people, the village of Gusa Jamat's homegrown militia kicked out Darfur rebels more than two years ago and made sure the government forces they are fighting did not come back in their place. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a passionate plea to the international community to persuade the Sudanese government to open Darfur to U.N. peacekeepers. "We're tired of the fighting," said Shaieb. Every man here has a gun and they can be at the ready if alerted by the warning network with surrounding villages, he added. Gusa Jamat is about 60 miles southeast of El Fasher, the regional capital of North Darfur state. The government has mobilized some 8,000 fighters in El Fasher, a move the U.N. says violates the cease-fire. Though Khartoum pledged to disarm the janjaweed, many El Fasher residents say they recognize some of the dreaded fighters among the newly arrived troops.

3. She sleeps less, goes out less, and has reduced her course load to work 30 to 40 hours a week organizing student campaigns. Her goal: to end the suffering in Darfur, Sudan, perhaps the world's worst humanitarian crisis. "If people are still dying, I need to keep working," says Bailey Cato, a University of Oklahoma senior and a regional coordinator for a student antigenocide coalition called STAND. And tomorrow she'll be fasting - along with Don Cheadle, Hollywood star of "Hotel Rwanda," and other celebrities and politicians in a show of solidarity with the people of Darfur. Student fasts are nothing new, of course. But the Darfur crisis has caught on with American activists in a way not seen since the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s and early '90s. And the big surprise is: They're achieving results. "The grass-roots people have really kept the issue alive and forced the hand of the governments," says Alex de Waal, a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, who has been advising the African Union on Darfur. He says the UN Security Council's decision in March 2005 to refer Darfur war crimes cases to the International Criminal Court and the US move two years ago to label the conflict "genocide" would not have happened without advocates' pressure. "I think [grass-roots efforts] have made [Darfur] almost a top-tier issue for the Bush administration," says John Prendergast, a senior adviser of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "There's no question [President] Bush feels political pressure to respond."

As always, the situation continues with bright little points of hope mixed with utter hopelessness. The UN still can not get in.

North Darfur is an interesting region because the offensive started there, before progressing West, then finally entering the southern region en masse last February. What happens in the North will sonn be hapening in the other two as well.

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