Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 13 May 2004

War in Sudan, don’t forget it

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Editorial, The Economist

Outsiders must help to end the latest horrors in Sudan

LONDON, May 13, 2004 — LAST week, by acclamation, African countries elected Sudan to serve on the UN’s human rights commission: an odd choice, given that Sudan’s Arab-dominated regime is currently trying to drive all the black Africans out of Darfur, a region the size of France in the west of the country. In pursuit of this goal, the regime in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, has armed and unleashed a mounted militia that is systematically burning villages and killing or raping their inhabitants. The best-informed observers estimate that 1m people have fled their homes, in addition to the 4m Sudanese already displaced by the country’s other, older war.

Sudan’s humanitarian crisis may be the world’s worst but is neither well-known nor widely understood, partly because the country is so inaccessible but mostly because it is so poor. It won brief notoriety for hosting Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s but he was expelled some time before September 11th, 2001. It is time to put the spotlight on Sudan again-and stop the latest bloodshed.

Confusingly, Sudan is the scene of two separate but related civil wars. One, between north and south, has been flaring up and down for half a century. The other, in Darfur, started only in February last year. The older war pits an Islamist government in the north against southerners who are mostly pagan or Christian. Darfur’s conflict is Muslim against Muslim. In any event, the prime source of Sudan’s horrors is political. Since independence in 1956, Sudan has been ruled by a small and undemocratic elite of mostly Arab Muslims. In the hope of crushing the long-standing rebellion by infidel southerners, they have routinely bombed villages, encouraged their militiamen to enslave southerners and deliberately fostered famine. Perhaps 2m people, mostly civilians, have died.

The good news is that the war between north and south is nearly over. Under pressure from the United States and others, the government has thrashed out a series of agreements with the main southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which should soon lead to a comprehensive peace deal. The two sides have agreed to share power for six years, after which the south will be allowed a referendum on whether or not to secede.

The bad news is that a lot of people feel left out. The men with guns are about to divide the power (and some petrodollars) between them. In the west and the east of the country, regions utterly neglected by the state, those who feel left out-in particular, in Darfur-have taken up arms. The government has evidently determined to crush them with such ferocity that other Sudanese are too scared to follow suit.

America has for some time threatened that, if the government does not negotiate with the south in good faith, it would impose sanctions on Khartoum and give heaps of cash to the SPLA. But if the regime made peace, it could expect aid, debt relief and a bit of investment. America should now make all this conditional on an immediate end to ethnic cleansing in Darfur and on sincere efforts to negotiate peace in the west as well as the south.

The rest of the world can help too. The UN Security Council should help broker a new ceasefire in Darfur, commit peacekeepers to uphold it, and press the government in Khartoum to address the grievances that sparked the revolt in the first place. Other African states and the African Union, meanwhile, should ostracise Khartoum until it stops ethnic cleansing.



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