As the genocide in Darfur goes on, chaos and killing spread to Sudan's neighbours

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
Published: 21 April 2006

It has been called a genocide in slow motion, its
gruesome details unfolding while the world looks the
other way. And it is spreading. 

There are pictures, there are witness accounts, there
are the Western visitors who go home with harrowing
tales of rape, scorched earth and horseback attacks on
helpless villagers.

Yet, three years after the beginning of the Sudanese
government crackdown against black African rebels,
killing more than 70,000 people and displacing two
million others through its allied Arab militias, the
world is still wringing its hands while Sudan's
western region burns.

A UN force for Darfur is still in the planning stages,
an attempt to punish Sudanese leaders with sanctions
has been blocked, and relief agencies have been denied
access to 300,000 people desperately in need of
emergency supplies.

"It's a big failure for the international community,"
said the UN high commissioner for refugees, António
Guterres. But the poison from Darfur threatens to
engulf the entire central African region.

Chadian rebel attempts to overthrow President Idriss
Déby in lightning strikes launched from across the
border in Darfur last week have brought accusations
that the Sudanese government was behind the
insurgency. Chinese-made equipment - China is a major
oil client of Khartoum and its diplomatic ally -
seized by the Chadian army fuelled the charges which
Khartoum has denied.

According to Mr Guterres, the Chad fighting, which
also involved the Central African Republic, means that
"Darfur is the epicentre of what could be potentially
a very damaging earthquake in the whole region." A
total 200,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to camps in

Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, based in
northern Uganda, send fighters into Central African
Republic, and into Democratic Republic of Congo and
are complicating efforts to return refugees into
southern Sudan, according to Mr Guterres. The regional
crisis could further worsen if Ethiopia and Eritrea
rekindle their border war.

"I do believe this has the potential to become the
most dramatic humanitarian catastrophe in the world,"
Mr Guterres told The Independent.

The chief UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Jan Egeland,
was expected to inform the UN Security Council
yesterday that the Darfur crisis had reached a turning
point. While a few months ago the violence had seemed
to be abating as the Sudanese responded to
international pressure, the tide is now turning again
with atrocities on the rise, people being forced from
their villages by marauding militias and relief
workers given ever shrinking access to the local

Since last summer, Mr Guterres said, "the
international community was not active enough, and the
African Union was left a bit alone, and now the
situation has become unbearable".

In the past few months, Sudan has played for time
while it drove a wedge between the veto-holding powers
on the UN Security Council, and while under-resourced
African Union "ceasefire monitors" struggled to carry
out their mandate in Darfur.

On Monday, Russia and China, which both have economic
interests in Sudan, blocked the imposition of a US and
UK-backed travel ban and assets-freeze against four
Sudanese leaders. Their veto prompted the US to force
a public vote on the issue later. The two countries
argued that sanctions would send the wrong message at
a time when a new deadline of 30 April has been set by
UN envoy Salim Ahmed Salim for securing a
comprehensive ceasefire between the Sudanese
government and Darfur rebel groups.

Sudanese government leaders used the same argument to
bar a UN team from travelling to Darfur this week in
order to assess prospects to transfer peace-keeping in
the region from the African Union to the UN later this
year. Sudan says that UN peacekeepers should only move
in to monitor a peace settlement.

But analysts argue that external pressure on the
Sudanese government had to be an essential part of the
UN arsenal. "This is a vicious regime. Without
external pressure, nothing will happen," said one
African analyst. "We're not talking about a nice
government, one that cares about its people."

A former member of the African Union mediating team, a
South African, Laurie Nathan, believes that the
repeated deadlines set by the international community,
which systematically slide, are pointless.

"This deadline diplomacy adds an element of farce to
the deadly conflict raging in Darfur. It is intended
to constitute pressure on the belligerent parties and
convey the international community's seriousness about
resolving the conflict," he said. "But since the
deadlines come and go without any negative
repercussions for the parties, they are not an
effective form of pressure and they undermine the
seriousness of the international community."

Mr Nathan believes that for both the government and
the rebel groups, whose factions are now fighting each
other in Darfur, "the battlefield remains the
strategic area of struggle."

Although the mediator, Mr Salim, was reported to be
upbeat earlier in the week when he briefed the
Security Council on his efforts, he has told
colleagues he has never come across parties so
unwilling to negotiate with each other as in the
Darfur negotiations.

With the Darfur conflict now pushing into Chad -
raising fears that the chronically unstable country
might go the same way as Somalia - prospects for UN
action have been further complicated. "It's very
worrying," said one UN diplomat.

The spreading ethnic conflict that, broadly speaking,
pits black Africans against Arab fighters - has also
raised fears of a broader war in an oil-rich region
that could mirror the civil war in Democratic Republic
of Congo where big powers were in the background on
opposing sides.

In the case of Darfur, the lines are now drawn with
China and Russia firmly on the side of Khartoum.

But even Britain and the US, which have consistently
taken a hard line against the Sudanese government, are
wary of destabilising a regime whose support is needed
in the "war on terror". The fifth UN security council
member, France, meanwhile, remains the power broker in


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