Jul 5, 2004
On June 30, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the Darfur region of Sudan. Powell said he visited to show humanitarian concern for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering in refugee camps. In fact, Powell's visit is nothing but a show – covering over the fact that the U.S. is cutting a deal with the regime in Sudan.
The U.S. had long charged Sudan with encouraging terrorism and tolerating the taking of slaves in the south of the country. But, looking for new allies to help it get out of its quagmire in Iraq, the U.S. government seems ready to ignore what it said about Sudan only last year. None of this has anything to do with relieving the desperate situation of people in Sudan.
The following translation is from an article that appeared in Le pouvoir aux travailleurs (Workers Power), published by the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers. It gives some sense of how desperate things are.
The situation of the peasants of the Darfur region of Sudan has become so dire that the World Food Program speaks of a humanitarian catastrophe which could result in "tens of thousands of deaths."
While an agreement is being wrapped up in Washington between the Sudanese government and John Garang, the leader of the Movement of the Liberation of the Peoples of Sudan, ending a rebellion which has raged in the south of Darfur for years, another conflict continues to ravage the west of the Darfur region.
Helicopters continue to shoot on villages. On the ground, the Janjaweed (armed cavalry) finish the dirty work. The Janjaweed are militias composed of Arabs, heavily equipped by the Sudanese regime. They raid villages on horses or camels and massacre those peasants who haven't fled. They seize the peasants' herds, destroy houses, rape the women and take the children to sell into slavery.
The creation of these militias as auxiliaries of the Sudanese army has only aggravated an old conflict between nomadic Arabic-speaking people and settled black African people, that is to say, between herders of livestock and peasants. Before, when there was a disagreement over cattle grazing in a field or devastating a harvest, it was settled amicably through compensation, without violence. The Janjaweed shattered this decades-old peaceful way of settling conflicts. Of course, all the livestock herders aren't members of the militias, but the majority benefit from their protection.
Today, there are 110,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad, a neighboring country, and 670,000 refugees displaced inside Sudan, all in great danger. Since negotiations failed between the Sudanese government and the rebels of the Movement of Sudanese Liberation, which arose a year and a half ago, the Sudanese army has been attempting to crush the movement. The rebels accuse the regime of General Bashir of excluding black minorities, especially in Darfur, the second most populous region in Sudan. The government's policy has pushed the population to take up arms.
The Sudanese government suspects the Chad regime of supporting these rebels, the majority of whom belong to the same ethnic group, the Zaghawa, as Idriss Déby, the president of Chad. It's true some refugees living in Chad have sent arms to the rebels and some Chad army officers have also joined the Movement of Sudanese Liberation.
In many cases, the Sudanese regime pursued Sudanese rebels across the border between the two countries and shot refugees in camps inside Chad. On May 11, a clash between Chad soldiers and Sudanese Janjaweed caused 61 deaths, according to Chad sources. In January, the Sudanese government had bombed the Tiné refugee camp, in Chadian territory. There were three deaths and 14 seriously wounded.
Humanitarian organizations demanded that the refugee camp be moved away from the border. The refugees benefit from the solidarity of the Chadian people, particularly those of their ethnic group, who, despite their own poverty, do everything they can to come to the aid of their brothers. Still, the refugees don't get nearly enough humanitarian aid from elsewhere.