[Marxism] The UN is making things worse in Darfur
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jul 14 15:53:20 MDT 2008
The indictment of the president of Sudan -- the head of one of the many
camps waging brutal regional and national wars in that country -- for war
crimes is the latest step in imperialism's campaign aimed at controlling the
country's oil and gas resources, and leaving the region as a whole in chaos.
This is considered preferable to the stabilization of any regime not
considered 100 percent reliable. Under a state of chaos the oil and gas
fields can be operated with the most minimal labor conditions and rights
while the rest of the region is left to rot.
All on the highest moral basis, of course! Save Darfur! Save the Black
Christians! Down with Islamist oppression! Try the chief war criminal (the
Hitler, Saddam, Ahmadinejad, and others declared "international outlaws" the
world dominators) and replace him with someone who is likely to be more
amenable to orders about when and where, for and against whom his war crimes
should be committed.
A good story from American Prospect.
Is the U.N. Making Things Worse in Darfur?
Foreign aid and a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission may be prolonging the
conflict in Darfur by providing a safe-haven where rebels can safely leave
their families and recruit new soldiers -- some of them children.
David Axe | July 14, 2008 | web only
Where was Hawa Mamhat Dijme's husband? I asked her one hot day in late June
at her earthen hut in the Iridimi refugee camp in eastern Chad. Iridimi,
with some 18,000 refugees, is one of a dozen large U.N.-administered camps
that have housed around 250,000 Darfuri refugees since 2004.
On the day of my visit, Dijme's clan was all in attendance: her three
children and her grown niece and sister and their own children -- around a
dozen in all. But no men.
So where was her husband -- or for that matter any of the women's husbands?
It might seem an impertinent question for a Western journalist visiting
remote, conservative Central Africa, but it's also an important question for
Hundreds of millions of American dollars -- at least $600 million so far
from the U.S. State Department plus additional (and untracked) money donated
by individuals -- make up the biggest source of income for the U.N. agencies
and private aid groups that feed, clothe and protect Darfuri refugees
fleeing the civil war in their native Sudan. European agencies and donors
also have ponied up hundreds of millions of dollars. Food aid alone for
Darfuri refugees totaled $240 million last year.
The U.N. says that the war shows no signs of ending anytime soon and that
more aid will be needed. But based on conversations with sources at Iridimi
and elsewhere in eastern Chad, it's possible that the largely Western-funded
humanitarian effort to "save Darfur" is actually prolonging the conflict by
providing a safe haven in Chad for the rebel groups fighting Khartoum and
its janjaweed militia proxies. The rebels have become so empowered that they
declined to attend Libyan-sponsored, U.S.-supported peace talks last year.
So where was Dijme's husband? I asked because I'd been told that many
Darfuri men living in the U.N.'s refugee camps actually spend most of their
in time Sudan. Some are just working or tending herds. But others return
frequently to Darfur to continue the fight that has raged for five years and
claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. To the latter, the refugee camps --
and the growing international force whose job it is to protect the camps --
are a godsend.
Rebel fighters can charge into battle knowing their families are safe,
well-fed, looked after by Western doctors, and guarded by a mixed brigade of
French, Swedish, Polish and Irish troops called "EUFOR." And if they survive
the fighting, the men can return to these safe havens to rest, eat, and, if
their groups' ranks are depleted, recruit and forcibly enlist new fighters,
"He's in Sudan working," Dijme told me, through an interpreter, the first
time I asked about her husband. The second time, just minutes later, she
changed her mind. "He's here in the camp," she said.
I never got a straight answer. But I never expected one. In Central Africa's
murky, overlapping civil conflicts -- pitting rebels, government-backed
militias, uniformed armies, apolitical bandit groups, former colonial troops
and European peacekeepers against each other in Sudan, Chad and the Central
African Republic -- it's hard to get straight answers about anything.
But one thing's clear. The war here is only escalating, spilling across
borders between the three countries, and claiming more lives and the
innocence of more and more children pressed into the fighting.
The solider was tired of the food. It was hard to blame him. For weeks a
platoon of Irish soldiers had lived in North Star Camp, a new EUFOR base
near Iridimi that houses mostly Polish troops. With Chad's natural resources
strained to the breaking point by the massive influx of refugees, EUFOR was
trying to keep its own logistical needs to a minimum. That frequently meant
eating years-old Polish combat rations. The tins of processed meat grow
gummy in the heat and tend to clog up the digestive system.
But it wasn't the food that put the frown on the face of this Irish soldier,
who asked not to be identified because his views are highly critical of
EUFOR. It was the E.U. force's mission.
EUFOR has a U.N. mandate to protect refugees and aid workers. "There hasn't
been an attack on a refugee camp in two years," the soldier insisted. He was
right. But there have been assaults on aid workers, most of which are
attributed to bandits rather than rebel armies.
"What the aid groups want is EUFOR troops standing guard outside their doors
at night," the soldier complained. That's just not possible, he said,
because, with only 1,200 combat troops in an area the size of Texas, EUFOR
is stretched thin. There are far more aid workers than there are soldiers.
Still, EUFOR rides out in its armored vehicles, shows the flag around the
big refugee camps, and flies its helicopters overhead. EUFOR might not be
able to give the aid workers the kind of close-in security they want, but
all the same there's a deterrent effect. EUFOR officials say Western troops
should help keep Sudan-based, pro-Khartoum fighters from operating around
But that doesn't mean that Chad-based, anti-Khartoum rebel groups will be
deterred. These groups blend in with eastern Chad and western Sudan's
civilian and refugee populations, both of which draw heavily from the
Zaghawa ethnic group. Zaghawas are pretty much above the law in eastern Chad
and western Sudan. They go where they please, when they please. They cross
border with impunity. Some say they commit crimes without fear of
Indeed, in camps like Iridimi, Zaghawas commit one of the most heinous
crimes of all -- recruiting children to fight the war in Darfur against the
Sudanese government. It's a crime that occurs at night, when the aid workers
are bunkered in their compounds outside town. It's a crime that everyone
knows happens but few will discuss openly. But aid workers will talk about
it off the record, and high-ranking U.N. officials allude to it without
naming it explicitly. And it's a crime that some say the E.U. cordon around
the U.N. camps helps make possible. The more secure the camps are, the
better they are as bases and recruiting pools for the Darfuri rebels,
according to the Irish soldier.
In Serge Male's air-conditioned office in the capital of N'Djamena, in
western Chad, it's easy to buy into his cheery optimism that contrasts
starkly with the Irish soldier's foul mood. Here, the camps -- and Darfur --
seem far away. A consummate Frenchman, Male, the Chad-based representative
of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, first smokes a cigarette then
sits on a soft leather sofa to discuss the camps. "I don't say there are not
any problems," he says. "There are some problems. But there are not very
"About the non-respect of civilian and nonmilitary nature of the camps," he
continues, using U.N. code for rebel activity, "especially as this is linked
to the recruitment of people [either] enforced or even voluntary -- it is
completely unacceptable to UNHCR. [But] it has happened, it continues to
happen and it will continue to happen." U.N. efforts to "educate" the camp
population against recruitment "proved to be insufficient," he says.
So what's Male's solution? Ironically, it's EUFOR, the very force that,
according to some, facilitates the rebel presence inside the refugee camps.
"Our expectation and hope now is that with the deployment of EUFOR ... we
will have more capacity to give more sustainable, more reliable solutions to
this kind of problem."
In other words, the secure space that EUFOR provides will allow the U.N. to
redouble its efforts to break the rebels' hold on the camps.
Male is aware of the risks. He says it's especially chancy relying on
refugee informants to tip off the U.N. about rebel activity in the camps. If
the informants are caught, they could be hurt or killed and no more
informants would volunteer.
"We want to do everything we can," he says, unintentionally echoing the good
intentions that drive Americans to continue donating to potentially
self-defeating "Save Darfur" campaigns.
"But we know," Male says, "we can do more harm than good."
David Axe is a military correspondent living in Washington, D.C. Since 2005
he has reported from Iraq, Lebanon, East Timor, Afghanistan and Somalia. He
is a regular contributor to The Washington Times, C-SPAN and BBC Radio,
among many others. He blogs alongside tech writer Noah Shachtman at Danger
Room. He can be reached at david_axe-at-hotmail.com
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