[Marxism] Darfur realities defy "humanitarian intervention"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 20 07:19:14 MDT 2008

A Wide-Open Battle For Power in Darfur

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 20, 2008; A01

EL FASHER, Sudan -- Five years after the Darfur conflict began, the 
nature of violence across this vast desert region has changed 
dramatically, from a mostly one-sided government campaign against 
civilians to a complex free-for-all that is jeopardizing an effective 
relief mission to more than 2.5 million displaced and vulnerable people.

While the government and militia attacks on straw-hut villages that 
defined the earlier years of the conflict continue, Darfur is now home 
to semi-organized crime and warlordism, with marijuana-smoking rebels, 
disaffected government militias and anyone else with an AK-47 taking 
part, according to U.N. officials.

The situation is a symptom of how fragmented the conflict has become. 
There were two rebel groups, but now there are dozens, some of which 
include Arab militiamen who once sided with the government. The founding 
father of the rebellion lives in Paris. And the struggle in the desert 
these days is less about liberating oppressed Darfurians than about 
acquiring the means to power: money, land, trucks.

Though there are some swaths of calm in Darfur, fighting among rebels 
and among Arab tribes has uprooted more than 70,000 people this year, 
compared with about 60,000 displaced by government attacks on villages, 
according to U.N. figures.

Although powerful countries such as China, which is heavily invested in 
Sudan's oil, have been criticized by human rights activists for not 
doing more to pressure the Sudanese government to end the conflict, some 
analysts say the breakdown of command lines on all sides has made the 
situation increasingly impervious to outside influence.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of banditry has become the biggest threat 
to humanitarian groups undertaking the largest relief effort in the 
world and to a nascent U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force. Their 
trucks and SUVs are stolen almost daily, used as fighting vehicles or 
sold for cash to middlemen who haul them to Chad and Libya.

Carjackings were once rare in Darfur, but 130 humanitarian trucks were 
taken last year, and the count so far this year is 140. Of those, 79 
belong to the World Food Program, which sometimes recovers the trucks 
from the side of the road, abandoned by bandits who ran out of gas.

The insecurity has crippled food distribution. Last month, the 
organization was forced to halve rations for millions of people in camps 
and villages.

"This is a new dimension for us," said Laurent Bukera, head of the 
program's North Darfur Area Office. "This week, there's been a 
carjacking every day -- every day."

World Food Program truck driver Adam Ahmed Osman said the bandits who 
attacked his convoy were young, skittish amateurs.

They popped out of a dry riverbed in trousers and head scarves, pointing 
rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns at Osman's 20-ton 
truck and another returning from delivering food a few hours from this 
bustling market town.

The nine men told Osman and the other driver to lie in the sand. The 
attackers took their cellphones, Osman's watch and some money. Then came 
a question.

"One of the men got on the seat of the truck and asked, 'What is this?' 
" said Osman, who escaped unharmed with his colleague as the bandits 
made off with one truck. "I explained, 'It is a hand brake.' "

On a road leading south from here, carjackings are so frequent that 
World Food Program officials recently discussed using a helicopter to 
reach a camp of 50,000 displaced people that is a 30-minute drive away. 
Along a 30-mile stretch of road farther south are no fewer than 15 
checkpoints manned by various militia or rebel factions. Heading west, 
Osman has been a victim four times.

The Wild West style of banditry is not happening only along the roads.

In recent weeks, a group of disgruntled militiamen -- the notorious 
Janjaweed -- rode into El Fasher on horseback and attempted to rob the 
National Bank of Sudan, complaining that the government had not paid them.

During the first four months of this year, 51 humanitarian compounds in 
towns across Darfur were raided by armed men, compared with 23 during 
the same period last year, according to the United Nations.

Relief groups in El Fasher are topping walls with razor wire and taking 
other precautions. Oxfam workers have resorted to using banged-up rental 
trucks, taxis and even donkey carts to deliver supplies, hoping to make 
themselves less enticing to potential bandits.

The insecurity has not yet reduced the impact of the relief effort. 
Rates of infant mortality and malnutrition have dropped significantly 
since 2006, for instance. But in the nearby Abu Shouk camp, where tents 
have been replaced by mud-brick houses and walls spiked with broken 
glass to deter break-ins, people have noticed that humanitarian workers 
visit less regularly.

"They used to check on us every week," said Tigani Nur Adam, a teacher 
who has lived in the camp for five years. "Now, it's not so often."

Of the seven Oxfam locations in Darfur, four are accessible to workers 
only by air, said Alun McDonald, a spokesman for the group who recently 
survived an assault on his compound.

"The conflict has become so much more complex," he said. "There were 
three rebel groups, and now I don't think anyone knows how many there 
are. . . . The lines of who's who are much more blurred."

It is a marked change from the beginning of the conflict in 2003, when 
the Sudanese government unleashed a brutal campaign to crush rebels who 
had taken up arms under the banner of ending decades of discrimination 
by a government of Arab elites.

Of the 450,000 deaths some experts estimate have been caused by the 
conflict, most occurred during the first two years, which produced the 
iconic images of Darfur: government planes bombing villages and allied 
militias rampaging on horseback, burning huts, raping women and killing 

Though Arab and African ethnicities are very much intertwined in Sudan, 
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's government used Arab nationalism, and 
money, as way to rally the landless, Arab nomadic militias against their 
farmer neighbors, who tended to identify themselves as African.

But the situation began to change in 2006, when only one rebel faction 
of the original Sudan Liberation Movement signed a peace deal with the 

The rest of the rebels headed back to the desert and jockeyed for 
position as the divisions began: SLA-Unity, SLA-Free Will, Sudan Federal 
Democratic Alliance, National Redemption Front and so on. "There's no 
need of counting anymore," a U.N. official said, referring to the factions.

The one rebel group that remains militarily strong is the Justice and 
Equality Movement, or JEM, which is backed by Chad and staged an attack 
last month on Khartoum, Sudan's capital, that failed to topple the 
government. So far this year, most government and militia attacks on 
villages have been in areas along the Chadian border controlled by JEM.

Otherwise, the Sudanese government has little need for military action, 
as Darfur is at war with itself.

Arab tribes are fighting one another over land, cows and other spoils of 
war. Disillusioned Janjaweed militiamen, abandoned by the government, 
have joined rebels and government soldiers in the business of looting, 
carjacking and petty shakedowns.

"Everybody is guilty," said Col. Augustine Agundu, chairman of the 
peacekeeping mission's cease-fire commission, who reserved special wrath 
for the rebels. "Emancipation, ending discrimination, that was their 
drive at the beginning, whereas today they don't know what they want."

The peacekeeping mission is in the middle of it all, saddled with the 
high expectations of advocacy groups that simply want the conflict to end.

The hybrid U.N.-African Union force, known as UNAMID, technically took 
over from an underfunded, underequipped African Union force of about 
7,000 soldiers in December, but little has changed. The first new 
battalions have not yet arrived, nor has any new equipment.

The soldiers are authorized to use force to keep peace and protect 
civilians under imminent threat, but commanders fear that opening fire 
would jeopardize the mission by making it a party to the conflict.

Last month, bandits on horseback attacked a UNAMID commander and several 
peacekeepers, who surrendered their weapons and truck.

"What we are here to do is talk, not shoot," said Gen. Martin Luther 
Agwai of Nigeria.

That is all that Osman, the truck driver, can do, too. He's learned to 
sweet-talk the bandits, whom he often presumes to be rebels. Sometimes, 
he tries to shame them, explaining that he is bringing food to people 
who need it. The approach seems to have worked so far.

"I am from Darfur, and these people outside are our relatives," Osman 
said. "So I have an obligation to take food to them."

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