Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 4 November 2006

The Final Onslaught in Darfur: Assaults on displaced civilians camps


Insecurity threatening civilians and humanitarians continues to accelerate, even as the international community retreats further from meaningful action

By Eric Reeves

November 4, 2006 — With a grim predictability, the last and likely most deadly phase of the genocide in Darfur has begun. The primary weapon will be violence directed at non-Arab, or African, tribal populations within camps for displaced persons, violence carried out primarily by Arab Janjaweed militias serving as proxies for the Khartoum regime. These camps are already cauldrons of rage, characterized by increasing deprivation and despair, and many humanitarians fear explosions of violence within some of the larger camps, which are already awash in arms and where ethnic tensions are often running very high, especially between Zaghawa and other African tribal groups (the rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Minni Minawi, a Zaghawa, is the only one to have signed the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement). The African Union is able to provide meaningful internal security in almost none of these camps. But it is the direct, large-scale assaults on the camps that could produce the greatest number of violent casualties in the genocide.

This is the significance of the attacks reported November 2, 2006 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

“The Secretary-General condemns the large-scale militia attacks in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur on 29 and 30 October [2006]. The attacks on eight civilian settlements, including a camp harbouring some 3,500 internally displaced persons, caused scores of civilian deaths and forced thousands to flee the area. The Secretary-General is particularly distressed on hearing reports that 27 of those killed were children under the age of 12.” (UN News Service [New York], November 2, 2006)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has issued a report on the attacks indicating that:

“7,000 people fled the area [of the attacks]. The report [by the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights], [was] based on eyewitness testimony and village lists collected by UN monitors in the region. [ ] Several witnesses quoted by the United Nations described seeing cold-blooded killings of children when the attackers ransacked villages, including a woman whose four-year-old was pulled from her grasp and shot dead. ‘Four children escaped in a group and ran under a tree for protection. An attacker came and shot at them, killing one of the children,’ a witness was quoted as saying. ‘Another group of three children (five, seven and nine years-old) were running in line. The five-year old fell down and was shot dead,’ the witness reportedly added. One of the attackers reportedly told a boy who pleaded with him: ‘If I let you go then you will grow up.’ The boy was then shot, the report said.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Geneva], November 3, 2006)

To be sure, such attacks on camps are not without precedent; over a year ago both the Aro Sharow camp for internally displaced persons (also in the Jebel Moon areas of West Darfur) and the camp at Tawilla (North Darfur) were also savagely attacked by the Janjaweed, with the conspicuous complicity on the part of Khartoum’s regular military forces. As the African Union, helpless bystanders, reported at the time:

“On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.”

“The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.” (Transcript of press conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)

In the context of the most recent Janjaweed attacks, it is important to understand that what Kingibe reported in October 2005 as the “rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur” entailed a massive assault on the Aro Sharow camp for displaced persons, where 4,000-5,000 innocent civilians were made to flee, at least 34 were killed, and (according to the UN High Commission for Refugees) approximately one quarter of the flimsy shelters in the camp were destroyed in the assault. Such an attack on a displaced persons camp was---at the time---unprecedented, even for Darfur.

Moreover, the AU reports could not have been more authoritative. Speaking of the attack on Aro Sharow camp, Kingibe declared in his press conference: “This incident [was] confirmed not only by our investigators, but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in the area.” (See my contemporaneous analysis of these attacks at,
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-index-req-viewarticle-artid-530-page-1.html )

The attacks of this week are not only extraordinary brutal, but appear to be part of an escalating campaign of violence against civilians and humanitarians. Amnesty International has reported in detail (November 3, 2006), and provides a highly informed account of the desperate humanitarian situation now confronting survivors of these massacres, suggesting that the total number of casualties from Janjaweed attacks may soon number in the hundreds (again, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports the terrified flight of approximately 7,000 civilians in an area currently beyond humanitarian reach):

“Janjawid militias attacked eight villages and a camp of displaced people in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur on 29 October [2006], leaving at least 67 men, women and children dead. Other Janjawid attacks, including killings and abductions, have taken place in other parts of Darfur. Local inhabitants say the Janjawid are gathering in Sawani and Goz Banat, areas close to Jebel Moon, apparently in preparation for further attacks. Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of civilians who have fled the area, and of other villagers in West and North Darfur States.”

“The attacks started before dawn at Ghribeish village and spread to other villages in the Jebel Moon area. They were carried out by Janjawid, reportedly wearing Sudanese military uniforms, on horseback and camels. According to reports, their uniforms and weapons were brand new, and were similar to the uniform and weapons of Janjawid militia based at the Sudanese Armed Forces camp at Tina [also Tine], on the Chadian border.”

“Upon entering each village, those on horseback reportedly opened fire randomly on the residents, while those on camels rounded up the livestock. When they had killed or displaced the villagers, they plundered goods and burnt the rest of the harvest, so that villagers lost all of their food supply. They also reportedly damaged the water supply. First reports said that at least 32 children were among the dead, mostly in Ghribeish, as this was the first village attacked, and people were taken by surprise. The other places attacked included the villages of Awain, Kishkish, Sunait and Garna, and the camp at Hajilijah which contained 3,500 internally displaced people.”

“The people attacked were mostly from the Zaghawa, Jebel and Erenga ethnic groups. The attacks reportedly took place because of ethnic links between some villagers and the members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) or the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), armed opposition groups which have bases in the area.” [ ]

“According to reports, the majority of those living in the area have fled across the border to Chad. Others have gone to Sileah, about four kilometres from Hajilijah, which used to be an international humanitarian assistance point but has now been largely evacuated. Hundreds of people are still believed to be hiding in the bush around Jebel Moon. Humanitarian assistance cannot be provided due to insecurity throughout the area. The only access by international aid staff is by helicopter.”
(Amnesty International, “Fear for Safety/Fear of Unlawful Killings: Civilians in West and North Darfur, particularly in the Jebel Moon area,” Index: AFR 54/073/2006, 03 November 2006)

We must take extremely seriously Amnesty’s report that “local inhabitants say the Janjawid are gathering in Sawani and Goz Banat, areas close to Jebel Moon, apparently in preparation for further attacks.” For a Reuters dispatch from Tine, straddling the border between West Darfur and Chad, also suggests that a major new military offensive against civilians is underway. Noting that “up to 92 people may have been killed in the attack on October 29 [2006] on at least four villages in the Jabel Moun area, where rebel and government forces are present,” the dispatch went on to note what has become increasingly evident since the punishing military defeats suffered by Khartoum’s regular forces during current offensives in both North Darfur and West Darfur states:

“Rebels on Friday [November 3, 2006] accused Khartoum of re-mobilising Arab militia after suffering two military defeats on the Sudan-Chad border. ‘The government have begun mobilising the Janjaweed widely, especially in West Darfur, because they want to clear the area and move north along the border and defeat us,’ said Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a leader of the National Redemption Front (NRF).” (Reuters [dateline: Tine, West Darfur], November 3, 2006)

We should also see the implications of Amnesty’s description of the Janjaweed forces involved in these most recent attacks:

“[The attacks] were carried out by Janjawid, reportedly wearing Sudanese military uniforms, on horseback and camels. According to reports, their uniforms and weapons were brand new, and were similar to the uniform and weapons of Janjawid militia based at the Sudanese Armed Forces camp at Tina [also Tine], on the Chadian border.”

The fact that Khartoum has chosen to renew the arming and equipping of Janjaweed militia forces clearly signals an ongoing campaign. Indeed, this was evident several weeks ago when the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur (assembled under the authority of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 [March 2005]), released a report indicating that Khartoum continues to pour troops and military equipment into North Darfur, in clear violation of the terms of the Darfur Peace Agreement and UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005) (See report by Panel of Experts, August 31, 2006, paragraphs 73-88). Most significantly, the Panel found that instead of disarming the Janjaweed, as originally “demanded” by UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (July 2004), as well as by the terms of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement, Khartoum is arming these military proxies even more heavily:

“The [UN] Panel [of Experts] has credible information that the Government of the Sudan continues to support the Janjaweed through the provision of weapons and vehicles. The Janjaweed/armed militias appear to have upgraded their modus operandi from horses, camels and AK-47s to land cruisers, pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenades. Reliable sources indicate that the Janjaweed continue to be subsumed into the [paramilitary] Popular Defence Force in greater numbers than those indicated in the previous reports of the Panel. Their continued access to ammunition and weapons is evident in their ability to coordinate with the Sudanese armed forces in perpetrating attacks on villages and to engage in armed conflict with rebel groups.” (Report of the UN Panel of Experts, August 31, 2006, paragraph 76)

Khartoum’s contempt for various obligations and commitments to the international community, including to the UN, was further highlighted in this most recent report by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur:

“In spite of the clear understanding of its obligations under Security Council resolution 1591 (2005), at the time of writing this report [August 31, 2006], the Government of the Sudan still had not requested approval from the Committee to move weapons, ammunition or other military equipment into Darfur, thereby knowingly violating the provisions of the resolution [1591].” (Introductory Summary)

For its part, Khartoum recently declared again with spectacular---which is to say characteristic---mendacity that “a plan had been set up to disarm Darfur’s infamous Janjaweed---the pro-government militia accused by Washington of genocide---and all other militias within two months” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], October 30, 2006). And yet just today, Reuters reports from Tine on the West Darfur/Chad border:

“Sudan may deny that its army cooperates with the Arab militia at the heart of the Darfur conflict, but in Tine, on the border with Chad, little trouble is taken to hide the fact. The militiamen, known locally as Janjaweed, arrived in Tine last week and set up base jointly with the Sudanese army to protect the strategic site against attack by Darfur rebels. ‘Here in Tine it is very clear...that the Janjaweed are working hand in hand with the government troops who are here,’ said Thomas Chaona, acting commander in the Tine sector of the ill-equipped AU force struggling to monitor a notional truce in remote western Sudan.” [ ]

“Under an AU-brokered peace deal signed in May with only one of three negotiating rebel factions, Khartoum promised to disarm the Janjaweed, a term loosely derived from the Arabic for ’devils on horseback’, by October 22 [2006]. But one day after the deadline, about 1,000 Janjaweed rode into Tine, terrifying the few hundred residents, who fled across the border to Chad.” (Reuters [dateline: Tine, West Darfur], November 4, 2006)

The shamelessness with which the National Islamic Front regime has repeatedly promised to disarm the Janjaweed (originally in a July 3, 2004 Memorandum of Understanding, co-signed by Kofi Annan in Khartoum) should tell the international community all it needs about the meaning of this current promise. But the consistent failure to hold the regime to its commitments, or to make good on the Security Council “demand” that the Janjaweed be disarmed, has long since convinced these ruthless genocidaires that words can easily substitute for actions. In turn, the refusal by negotiators in Abuja to see the meaning of this record of mendacity and bad faith---on many occasions, and concerning many issues and prior commitments---was the central failure of the Darfur Peace Agreement negotiated in Abuja, and signed on May 5, 2006 with one faction (the least representative) of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M).


The vulnerability of displaced civilians in camps could not be greater. Some enjoy minimal protection by virtue of a humanitarian witnessing presence and the marginal deterrence afforded by the African Union. But the sheiks of “Camp Rwanda” near Tawilla, North Darfur speak for many who have no protection of any sort, and whom journalists cannot reach---civilians such as those slaughtered this week in West Darfur. The New York Times’ Lydia Polgreen reported from “Camp Rwanda” on September 10, 2006:

“A year ago it was a collection of straw huts, hastily thrown together in the aftermath of battle, hard by the razor-wire edge of a small African Union peacekeeper base. Today it is a tangle of sewage-choked lanes snaking among thousands of squalid shacks, an endless sprawl that dwarfs the base at its heart. Pounding rainstorms gather fetid pools that swarm with mosquitoes and flies spreading death in their filthy wake. All but one of the aid groups working here have pulled out.”

“Many who live here say the camp is named for the Rwandan soldiers based here as monitors of a tattered cease-fire. But the camp’s sheiks say the name has a darker meaning, one that reveals their deepest fears.”

“‘What happened in Rwanda, it will happen here,’ said Sheik Abdullah Muhammad Ali, who fled here from a nearby village seeking the safety that he hoped the presence of about 200 African Union peacekeepers would bring. But the Sudanese government has asked the African Union to quit Darfur rather than hand over its mission to the United Nations. ‘If these soldiers leave,’ Sheik Ali said, ‘we will all be slaughtered.’”

And yet camp populations continue to swell because of Khartoum’s ongoing offensive. For example, the UN Sudan Bulletin (November 1, 2006) reports from North Darfur:

“An [international humanitarian organization] reported that during October [2006] it received 85 families (425 individuals) in As Salaam Camp [near el-Fasher], mainly from the Korma area [site of major fighting]. The total caseload of As Salaam is now 43,907 people, with 20,675 new arrivals reported since July this year.”

This is one camp. There are some 300 camps and concentrations of displaced civilians scattered across Darfur.

For all too many Darfuri displaced persons, and increasingly refugees in eastern Chad, there are no soldiers or protection at all. They are utterly defenseless except insofar as the can be protected by the rebel forces fighting as part of the National Redemption Front (NRF), a coalition of non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement that continue to provide formidable military opposition to Khartoum, but cannot begin to provide widespread civilian protection in this vast region. Civilians, whether in camps in Darfur or Chad, or in rural villages, will increasingly be targeted as Khartoum resumes in earnest its violent campaign of ethnically-targeted human destruction, focusing on noncombatants perceived as sharing the ethnicities of those who make up the NRF.

The genocidal attacks mounted by Khartoum also take the form of continuing and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by Antonov “bombers” (retrofitted cargo planes from which crude but deadly barrel bombs are rolled out the back cargo bay). Although Khartoum preposterously denies any such attacks, a recent sortie almost hit an African Union patrol:

“Acting [African Union] sector commander of Tine base, Thomas Chaona, said Antonovs could be seen or heard flying almost daily along the Chad-Sudan border and on October 13 [2006] an AU patrol was almost bombed because the pilot mistook them for a rebel convoy. ‘October 13 we sent a patrol out ... it was threatened that the patrol should pull back to the camp because the Antonov was up and that Antonov was about to release bombs on our patrol.’” (Reuters [dateline: Tine, West Darfur], November 3, 2006)

Other Antonov bombing attacks, which because of their notorious inaccuracy target primarily civilians, are also reported on a regular basis by the UN Sudan Bulletin.


As insecurity continues to escalate throughout Darfur, humanitarian access is correspondingly attenuated, with ongoing evacuations, withdrawals, and in some cases the complete termination of operations. Confidential conversations with humanitarian workers and officials reveal that there has only been further deterioration since UN aid chief Jan Egeland declared in mid-September that humanitarian operations were “in free-fall.” Attacks on humanitarian convoys continue with shocking frequency and brutality. The October 29, 2006 UN Sudan Bulletin reports that in West Darfur,

“On 27 October [2006], a medical convoy of two vehicles escorted by Local Police to El Geneina was ambushed between Siliea and Abu Sorouj by suspected Janjaweed militia. One vehicle escaped. The other vehicle was later found destroyed a few kilometres from the incident and four people were killed.”

Two other convoy attacks were reported by the UN News Service on October 31, 2006. In another dispatch of the same day, the UN News Center reported the death of the fourteen humanitarian aid worker killed this year, almost all since the signing of Darfur Peace Agreement:

“The United Nations today strongly condemned the death of another humanitarian worker in the increasingly unstable region of Darfur, according to a statement issued by the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS). The death of a driver who disappeared---and is presumed dead---[occurred] during a hijacking incident in North Darfur. ‘We are particularly distressed that aid workers are being attacked while carrying out their duties, bringing relief and help to the suffering in Darfur; this is completely unacceptable,’ [said Manuel da Silva, the UN’s Humanitarian Co-coordinator in Sudan and the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Development]. The UNMIS statement said the worker was a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

As attacks continue, indeed increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to find Sudanese drivers who will travel on many of the vital transport corridors. The reliance upon helicopter transport increases, radically diminishing humanitarian capacity and the ability to monitor locations where distressed populations are concentrated. To make the humanitarian tasks even more difficult, the Khartoum regime continues its longstanding policies of harassment, obstruction, and threats, all part of a war of attrition directed against the embattled organizations upon whom more than 4 million conflict-affected persons in Darfur and eastern Chad are now critically dependent. Khartoum is also increasingly intent upon silencing humanitarian organizations in an effort to prevent them from speaking out about what they see. This is the clear import of a statement recently reported in the UN Sudan Bulletin (October 26, 2006):

“Sudan’s Minister of Interior, Dr. Zubeir Bashir, said during a visit to Darfur State that the Government [ ] is ready to expel any [humanitarian] organization in Darfur that violates its mandate.”

This “mandate” is explicitly defined by Khartoum so as to exclude reporting on atrocities, military actions, mortality data, and a range of other issues of importance in understanding the Darfur genocide.

[An important dispatch from Eastern Sudan, reporting on humanitarian and political conditions in this badly marginalized and profoundly neglected region of Sudan, was filed by New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman,
“Misery Churns in Eastern Sudan, Away From Spotlight” [dateline: Togley, Eastern Sudan], October 28, 2006], at http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/27/news/sudan.php. Gettleman does a good job of providing an overview of the ways in which eastern Sudan has suffered in ways familiar in southern Sudan and Darfur.]


The military ambitions of the Khartoum junta are, bluntly, to destroy the military power of the non-signatory rebel factions that have unified under the National Redemption Front umbrella. Unable to achieve this objective by conventional military means, Khartoum has again---as it did in 2003-2004---switched to a strategy of civilian destruction, targeting noncombatants from those ethnic groups perceived as supporting in any way the rebel groups. And as previously, the most efficient weapon at hand is the Janjaweed militia forces that have been so aggressively and substantially re-armed and reconstituted, as well as incorporated into Khartoum’s regular and paramilitary forces. Khartoum calculates that with sufficient destruction of the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur, the survival of a sustainable rebel military force will eventually become impossible.

The primary tasks in fulfilling this genocidal policy are two-fold:

[1] continue to attenuate---through insecurity, harassment, threats, and obstructionist tactics---humanitarian relief efforts and the ability of international aid workers to observe genocidal attacks;

[2] forestall deployment of a large, well-equipped, and capable international force, tasked with civilian and humanitarian protection---in other words, a force of precisely the sort authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006).

Khartoum continues adamantly to refuse the authorized UN force, including yesterday (November 3, 2006) in Beijing at an Africa summit hosted by the Chinese government: NIF President Omar al-Bashir declared yet again, “We refuse to accept the entry of UN peacekeepers into Sudan” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Beijing], November 3, 2006). In explaining this decision, al-Bashir declared further:

“‘We were using traditional methods and measures to resolve the conflict [in Darfur],’ al-Bashir said. ‘The cause of the crisis is the interference from external powers...mainly the United States.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Beijing], November 3, 2006)

In fact, we may soon expect more conciliatory talk from al-Bashir, if no less adamant a refusal to accept a UN peace support operation. For the Bush administration is presently lurching from one policy posture to another in confronting what former Secretary of State Colin Powell testified in September 2004 amounted to genocide (“genocide has been committed in Darfur, and the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility”). Though cleaving to the genocide determination for political reasons, the administration is clearly shifting to a policy of accommodation and appeasement, as a series of dispatches this week make clear. Reuters reports from Washington (November 1, 2006):

“The United States is trying to pull together an international plan for Darfur that would use carrots and not sticks to persuade Sudan to accept UN peacekeepers in its war-torn western region, a senior US official said on Wednesday. The official also said Sudan was trying to delay action on Darfur by asking many nations to offer proposals. Washington wants a single plan agreed on by the United States and key Arab, European and other nations.”

Writing in the Middle East On-line (November 2, 2006) David Millikin observes from Washington:

“The United States looks set to pull back from its muscular approach to ending what it calls genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region in a major concession to the regime in Khartoum, according to former US officials and Africa experts. President George W. Bush announced a policy review this week after repeatedly failing to obtain Sudanese government compliance with a US-sponsored UN resolution demanding the deployment of UN peacekeepers in war-torn Darfur.”

Millikin notes further:

“In announcing the US policy rethink on Tuesday [October 31, 2006], Bush set alarm bells ringing by omitting any mention of a UN peacekeeping mission, referring only to the need to deploy ‘an effective international force’ to Darfur. [ ] A senior State Department official on Wednesday lent credence to that view, saying there were ‘a lot of different ways’ to draw up an international force that was ‘sustainable and robust’ enough to tackle Darfur. He declined to elaborate.”

But full “elaboration” came today, as Andrew Natsios, President Bush’s special envoy for Darfur and Sudan, concluded the weeklong abandonment of US commitment to meaningful security for Darfur:

“In a major policy reversal, Washington’s special envoy for Darfur has confirmed the United States is backing away from demands for deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to the war-torn region of Sudan. Andrew Natsios, President George W. Bush’s personal envoy to Sudan, said Washington and other Western governments were looking for an ‘alternate way’ to deal with the violence [in Darfur].” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Washington, DC], November 4, 2006)

This “policy reversal” reflects nothing so much as expediency, cowardice, and the absence of moral resolve within the State Department’s Africa Bureau, up to the most senior levels. It also reflects, ominously, the Bush administration’s continuing willingness to do business with Khartoum’s genocidaires in the interest of securing intelligence, of questionable value, on international terrorism. The patent result has been ongoing confusion, disarray, and contradiction in articulation of a Darfur and broader Sudan policy. By way of illustration, it might be useful to create a brief, if necessarily very partial, chronology of statements on Darfur by senior Bush administration officials subsequent to Secretary Powell’s September 2004 determination that genocide was being committed in Darfur (a determination that was of course hedged by the immediately ensuing assertion, in the course of his Senate testimony, that “nothing new” followed in the way of US policy or commitments from this determination):

[1] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the capabilities of the African Union (Senegal, July 20, 2005): “The African Union has the lead in [responding to the Darfur crisis]; we have tried to help and will continue to try to help, but I think Africans believe this is a conflict best resolved on the ground by Africans.” (Agence France Presse [dateline: Dakar, Senegal], July 20, 2005)

[2] Michael Ranneberger, the senior State Department official with full-time responsibilities for Sudan and Darfur, on the effectiveness of the AU and the vibrancy of agricultural production in rural areas of Darfur:

"‘Even now what you are seeing is not these systematic Janjaweed attacks against villages. You know, somebody said, It’s because all the villages were burned. Well, it’s not. You fly over Darfur, almost all...you see thousands of villages fully populated, farming going on, and everything else. So, it’s because of the presence of these African Union forces.’" (Michael Ranneberger, October 7, 2005 transcript from National Public Radio, "Morning Edition")

[3] Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on the accelerating violence in Darfur in fall 2005 (November 4, 2005): “Frazer cautioned against dwelling too much on the current level of violence [in Darfur]. In an interview, she said ‘this is a long process’ that over time has begun to show progress. ‘If you look at a snapshot at one moment, you will miss that dynamic movement,’ she said. The fighting among rebel forces, for example, is ‘one snapshot’ but she said that was a ‘not uncommon effect of the end of a war’ as groups jockeyed for position in negotiations.” (Washington Post, November 4, 2005)

[4] US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on the nature of human destruction in Darfur (Sudan, November 9, 2005): “‘It’s a tribal war,’ Zoellick said. ‘And frankly I don’t think foreign forces want to get in the middle of a tribal war of Sudanese.’” (ABC News [on-line], November 9, 2005)

[5] US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on the ability of the African Union to provide security for all civilians and humanitarians in Darfur (testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, November 19, 2005): “The African Union effort in Darfur has demonstrated why deployment of African troops is a viable option” (November 17, 2005).

[6] President Bush on security needs for Darfur (February 17, 2006): “[President Bush declared that a security force for Darfur will require] NATO stewardship, planning, facilitating, organizing, probably double the number of peacekeepers that are there now, in order to start bringing some sense of security” (New York Times, February 17, 2006)

[7] President Bush on genocide in Darfur (March 29, 2006): “‘this is serious business. This is not playing a diplomatic holding game.... When we say genocide, that means genocide has to be stopped’” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, South African Press Agency [dateline: Washington, DC], March 29, 2006).

[8] US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer in the wake of the Abuja agreement, suggesting that the need for pressuring Khartoum has ended (May 12, 2006):

“Asked what the United States would do if Khartoum did not accept UN peacekeepers to help about 7,000 under-equipped African Union forces in Darfur, Frazer said the international community would proceed as planned. Pressed on whether this meant forced military intervention to end what the US has termed genocide, Frazer said she was certain Khartoum would agree and this would not happen. ‘There is no need to do the contingency plan if you expect the government of Sudan to agree to a UN operation,’ she said. ‘They signed the Darfur peace agreement and they know what is needed to implement it.’” (Reuters [dateline: Washington], May 12, 2006)

[9] US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on why Khartoum would accept a UN peace support operation in Darfur (August 24, 2006---one week before passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1706): “‘Why do we think we are going to succeed? Necessity and past history,’ [Frazer] said. ‘The past history is that the government of Sudan also opposed the African Union bringing a force to Darfur. Eventually, they saw the wisdom of that action.’” (State Department press conference, August 24, 2006)

[10] US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on August 31, 2006, the day that the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1706, authorizing 22,500 troops and security personnel, with a robust mandate to protect civilians and humanitarian:

“QUESTION: Are you optimistic that ultimately the Sudanese Government will accept without any conditions a UN force augmenting the African Union force and for it to be re-hatted? And if not, do you plan punitive actions because of their refusal to do this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I’m very confident that ultimately they will accept the decision of the African Union and the decision of the African Union is that there needs to be a transition from AMIS to a UN mission. And I’m absolutely confident that ultimately the government of Sudan will accept that decision.” (transcript, State Department Press Briefing, August 31, 2006)

The painful ignorance, foolishness, and expediency of these remarks by the most senior officials of the Bush administration help to explain why the administration is pushing now for a “lowest common denominator policy,” in which Khartoum’s genocidaires would be presented with a series of rewards that are evidently currently in the making. Having done no “contingency planning” (“There is no need to do the contingency plan if you expect the government of Sudan to agree to a UN operation,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer), the Bush administration is simply improvising---with the lives of more than 4 million human beings at acute risk. And if the “plan” for Darfur has really devolved into an abject offering of rewards to Khartoum’s genocidaires, in the vague hope that they will behave differently, we may be all too sure that these brutal men will know that they have triumphed---and that security in Darfur will continue rest entirely upon their savage whims.


All too clearly, it is not only the US that has fully abandoned UN Security Council Resolution 1706. So too have UN and European officials. The latter in particular have never shown any real inclination to move urgently to halt the human destruction that the Parliament of the European Union declared (September 2004) to be “tantamount to genocide” (the vote was 566 to 6, with some abstentions). It may be that some senior European government officials have publicly and explicitly declared that genocide is occurring in Darfur: the German defense minister Peter Struck (September 2004); the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (April 2005); the French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy (September 2006). But in the end, this has merely been rhetorical posturing, as have the various apparent robust suggestions about military force to protect civilians and humanitarians in Darfur.

To be sure, the UN conceded first on UN Security Council Resolution 1706, in the form of highly destructive comments by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk (September 28, 2006). Pronk’s public abandonment of 1706 completely undercut the force of comments in a report to the Security Council made two days earlier by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

“I remain strongly convinced that a UN multidimensional operation, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1706 (2006), would be the most appropriate political approach to achieving lasting and sustainable peace in Darfur, and that only such a truly international and impartial operation, with adequate resources and capacity, and with strong African participation, can effectively support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.” (Monthly report on Darfur by the UN Secretary-General, September 26, 2006, paragraph 60)

And yet there is now disgracefully little international support for providing the personnel for this critical security mission. UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown declared in a lecture at Yale University this week (October 30, 2006) that “Khartoum has called our bluff,” and further that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been able to obtain commitments for only 400 troops from four countries (two of these are Sweden and Norway).

No doubt Khartoum’s threatening letters to potential troop-contributing nations was thoroughly unhelpful in the effort to mount a UN force. But it’s hard to see how Malloch Brown was not himself “bluffing” when he declared less than a month ago, in another lecture (at the Brookings Institution, October 12, 2006), that in light of rapidly deteriorating security conditions “we may move very quickly to a more dangerous set of options” (he offered a timetable of “days or weeks”). These options specifically included the use of military force: “We can’t take military force off the table, even if it is the worst option.” But while Malloch Brown declared that Darfur had reached a “dangerous tipping point” and that “we fear the worst,” these fears are evidently not enough to convince the UN Deputy Secretary-General to continue to push for assembly and deployment of the force authorized in UN Security Council Resolution 1706

Indeed, we must ask whether the expedient Malloch Brown ever considered “military force” to be on the table. Certainly all evidence suggests that he did not. Of course he has plenty of company: there are presently no international actor of consequence contemplating robust support for 1706. An extraordinary consensus has emerged to settle on the view that security---for all of Darfur, as well as for its border regions with Chad and an increasingly destabilized Central African Republic, and for all humanitarian operations in this vast theater---will be provided exclusively by a continually less effective African Union force, a force that indeed seems very likely to disintegrate at a rate that well exceeds any possible augmentation in the form of an “African Union-Plus.”


We continue to learn a good deal about the African Union mission in Darfur, and virtually all of it augurs extremely poorly for Darfur. Moreover, as morale continues to decline rapidly, we can expect to see certain unfortunate tendencies accelerate. A dispatch by Reuters’ extraordinary correspondent Opheera McDoom (dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur) gives us not only a stark portrait of demoralized soldiers but a glimpse of corruption within the AU, a story that has been lurking in the background of many assessments, but here finds damning clarity:

“A crowd of disgruntled soldiers camps outside the office of their superiors at the African Union base in Darfur’s main town el-Fasher, grumbling that they have not received a salary for more than two months. At the airport, soldiers wait all day in the hot sun for planes that never arrive. At the AU base in Abeche, across the border in Chad, AU soldiers cut off from their central command by poor communications stand outside the UN refugee agency office to use the Internet to send in reports.”

“Soldiers there said although money is deducted from their pay for food, they don’t get any. Earlier this year an AU soldier shot his officer because his wages had not been paid.”

“And then there are problems with corruption, soldiers said. Last month two AU vehicles were caught being loaded onto a plane headed to Nigeria. ‘We don’t call this AMIS, the African Mission In Sudan, we call it ABIS, the African Business In Sudan,’ said one officer, who declined to be named for fear of losing his job.”

“Western donors who fund the AU mission blame a lack of cash and equipment for the mission’s inability to stabilise Darfur. But the soldiers tell a different story. They say the money is there, but poor management and logistical weaknesses in the AU’s first major peacekeeping foray means the cash is often lost.”

“The AU blames the problems on Sudan’s weak banking system. Makosso Voumbi from Gabon blamed the AU system. ‘There is a management failure here,’ said the soldier, who said he has not been paid for two months and has camped in el-Fasher every day for three weeks asking for his money. Officer Albert Mboumba has been waiting since September 6 [2006] to be paid so he can go home. ‘If this continues they will face a very serious situation, because people may become undisciplined,’ he said.”

"We are useless"

“Khartoum rejects a UN Security Council resolution to transfer the AU mission to a UN peacekeeping force, likening it to a Western invasion. But many AU soldiers themselves say they want the United Nations to take over their mission to sort out the shortcomings. All over the el-Fasher base unhappy soldiers complained about the conditions, the money problems and many said they wanted to go home. ‘This African mission should be cancelled, we are useless,’ one shouted at journalists who walked past.” (Reuters [dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], November 2, 2006]

Many of these comments echo those reported earlier by Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times (September 8, 2006):

“[The Khartoum government has] proposed keeping the African Union force in place, and from interviews with dozens of officers and soldiers at camps in Darfur, it is easy to see why. African Union officers repeatedly spoke of the frustrations of what has become an impossible mission---to oversee a peace deal most of the militants in this brutal conflict have signed and to monitor a cease-fire that hardly anyone respects. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about African Union activities. ‘We are frustrated and feeling so useless,’ said one major from southern Africa based in Kebkabiya, a government-controlled town that is home to thousands of people displaced by the conflict. ‘We are not able to move freely and do our work. Sometimes I wonder if there is any reason for us to be here at all.’” (New York Times [dateline: Tawilla, North Darfur], September 8, 2006)

We learn a very great deal in these and many other such dispatches about why Khartoum is so insistent that the African Union remain the sole source of security in Darfur: for no amount of “augmenting” a merely notional “African Union-Plus” will change the security or military dynamic on the ground in Darfur. Khartoum also knows that so long as the AU is the only force on the ground, even “augmentation” will be an exceedingly slow process, as has every stage of AU deployment to date; no significant change in the AU has occurred for months, nor is there anything of real consequence in reinforcement currently moving forward. Khartoum also knows that it can strong-arm the AU politically, just as it can deny the AU fuel for the air and ground vehicles critical to all operations in remote and expansive Darfur.


Understanding the AU also tells us a very great deal about how disastrously the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was conceived, relying as heavily as it does upon the African Union for implementation of a highly complex agreement that required good faith from the parties and, above all else, guarantors for the security arrangements that are at the heart of the DPA. Khartoum understandably jumped at the final text of the AU-mediated agreement because it provided no role for any militarily able international guarantors. The disarmament of the Janjaweed, the creation of buffer zones, the formation of a highly mobile and well-equipped Ceasefire Commission---though these and a series of other important issues are addressed in the abstract in the DPA, none of the provisions had the slightest significance without the means to ensure Khartoum’s compliance...precisely what was lacking.

This is the necessary context for understanding a recent and excellent report on the Abuja peace process by Laurie Nathan: “No Ownership, No Peace: The Darfur Peace Agreement” (Crisis States Research Center [UK], Working Paper No. 5, September 2006, at http://www.crisisstates.com/Publications/wp/WPseries2/wp5.2.htm). Nathan offers an intelligent and highly informed account of the actual process of negotiating the Darfur Peace Agreement, the issues, the obstacles, and the personalities (he is especially good in assessing the SLA leaders and the AU negotiators). His focus is on the period between November 2005 and May 2006 (Nathan joined the AU mediation team in December 2005). His report is most effective, and devastating, in its account of the disastrous consequences of “deadline diplomacy” of the sort most conspicuously embodied in US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who was the major diplomatic force in ramming through the final form of the agreement.

But Nathan offers a peculiarly defensive conclusion to his report, excerpting a quotation by this writer from an August 11, 2006 article in The Guardian (UK), “Darfur’s Downward Spiral.” Nathan writes:

“There is sufficient evidence to argue that the DPA heightened the conflict and made its resolution more difficult. Yet it is overstating the case to maintain that ‘much of the violence [in Darfur] is a direct result of the shortcomings in the Abuja agreement, particularly the failure to provide meaningful international guarantees and guarantors’ [Eric Reeves, “Darfur’s Downward Spiral,” The Guardian, August 11, 2006]. The international community’s failure to provide adequate support to the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, which cried in vain for resources to oversee a tenuous ceasefire and protect civilians, has been especially shameful but the responsibility for the violence lies squarely with the perpetrators of the violence. The heaviest burden falls on Khartoum, whose marginalisation of Darfur provoked the rebellion and whose wanton destruction of communities thereafter invoked the charge of genocide.” (page 17)

As Nathan does here, I have decried the shameful failure of the militarily capable nations of the West to provide more support and resources to the African Union, even as I (and many others) have insisted that there are serious limitations to what can be effectively absorbed by the African Union, given its present administrative, logistical, and command capacities. Moreover, in a purely instrumental sense, I must agree with Nathan in saying that “responsibility for the violence lies squarely with the perpetrators of the violence.” But this verges on tautology. And it is disturbing understatement to say merely that the “heaviest burden” for violence “falls on Khartoum.”

For the burden of genocide alone rests with the National Islamic Front regime; the responsibility for genocidal counterinsurgency warfare does not belong to the rebel groups that continue to fight in the wake of the failure of the Abuja agreement to address legitimate grievances and demands. The ethnic targeting of various tribal groups has become a disastrous feature of violence in many places in Darfur; but if any single party besides the Khartoum regime bears significant responsibility, it is the SLA faction led by Minni Minawi, a Zaghawa, and nominally part of the “Government of National Unity” in Khartoum. SLA/Minni Minawi now often fights with Khartoum’s forces; indeed, some of Minawi’s commanders have earned the name “the new Janjaweed.”

The violence in Darfur since the May 5, 2006 signing of the DPA, which brought only the Minawi faction aboard, has been dramatically worse than the violence that preceded the signing of the agreement, although of course in the event the Abuja talks had collapsed, heightened violence would have been inevitable. But the DPA has not simply “heightened the conflict,” as Nathan would have it: the agreement directly (if certainly not by design) contributed to the alliance of the brutal Minawi faction of the SLA and Khartoum’s regular forces, along with its Arab militia allies---and thus to the violence that has proceeded directly from this alliance.

But most significantly, the DPA allowed Khartoum to assume the posture of signatory to a peace agreement, even when that agreement had no meaningful international guarantors for the security arrangements that were essential to its success (the securing of precisely such international guarantors was perhaps the key feature of the north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement [January 9, 2005]). This has made it impossible to secure subsequently from Khartoum any concession on a truly meaningful international presence, a presence that might actually oblige the regime to respect its commitments (preeminently to disarm the Janjaweed, but also to stop the flow of weapons and troops into Darfur, to create buffer zones around camps housing over 2 million displaced civilians, and to cease instigating cross-border violence between Darfur and Chad).

Absent such international presence, there is no hope for Darfur. Insecurity and violence will continue to escalate uncontrollably. The negotiations in Abuja should have been the occasion for the international community to demand of Khartoum that it accept the presence of a force, ideally a UN force, that could actually oversee and enforce implementation of the complex and highly challenging agreement that emerged. The failure of the Abuja process to provide such guarantors has left Khartoum feeling emboldened in its subsequent defiance of an international presence, even as it again accelerates its genocidal assault on the African tribal populations of Darfur. In this sense, it is all too true to say: “much of the violence [in Darfur] is a direct result of the shortcomings in the Abuja agreement, particularly the failure to provide meaningful international guarantees and guarantors.”

But it is not May 2006; it is November 2006. And there is no evidence that the international community is now any more willing to make serious demands of Khartoum’s genocidaires about security in Darfur than it was half a year ago---or more than two months after passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1706. The assaults on innocent civilians in displaced persons camps and rural areas will continue indefinitely, as will indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian targets, the killing and brutalizing of aid workers, the attenuation of humanitarian relief efforts, the raping of girls and women, the mass executions of men and boys, the burning of children and the elderly in homes that have been turned into bonfires, the pillaging of food and resources. And the violence will continue to spill into both Chad and the Central African Republic, with increasingly destabilizing consequences.

The world looks on, having made its decision of acquiescence. This is no longer Rwanda in slow motion.

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org

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