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Dafuris Made Pawns in Western Power Play for Oil?

by NORM DIXON

If anything betrays the true attitude of the US and European governments towards the suffering of millions of displaced people in the Darfur region of western Sudan, it is the little publicised fact that Western governments are allowing more than 2000 hungry and sick Darfuris to die every single day for want of urgently needed food, medicines and shelter.

Even as Washington is brandishing the US-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution passed on July 30 — which threatens unspecified diplomatic and economic “measures” against Sudan’s military dictatorship if it does begin to stem within 30 days the vicious ethnic-cleansing campaign carried out by state-sponsored janjaweed bandits — the British aid agency Oxfam has revealed that Western governments have not kept their promises to provide aid funds to the more than 1.3 million refugees in Darfur and 200,000 in neighbouring Chad.

In March, the UN issued an appeal for US$350 million to fund aid operations in Darfur. So far, less that half that amount has arrived. Oxfam’s Darfur-based spokesperson, Adrian Macintyre, told Germany’s Deutsche Presse Agentur on August 11: “Funds were found overnight for humanitarian operations in places like Iraq. When there is a political interest in a place, there is always money available.”

The UN’s World Food Program has also found that Western governments’ crocodile tears for the Darfuris’ plight have not translated into adequate assistance to save their lives. Of the $195 million it needs for relief operations in Darfur this year, just $123 million had been provided as of August 12.

Despite the huge numbers of aircraft and vehicles that the West can mobilise to wage deadly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just a handful of Western aircraft have been made available for relief operations in Sudan.

Omer Osman, secretary-general of Sudan’s Red Crescent Society, told Reuters on August 9 that lack of funds was worsening the disaster in Darfur.

Washington’s total aid pledges for Darfur of $220 million pale into insignificance compared to the $417 billion annual war budget that US President George Bush signed into law on August 5. According to French foreign minister Michel Barnier, writing in the August 13 British Financial Times, the European Union has contributed more than $270 million in aid, “about twice as much as the US”. Meanwhile, the Australian government has pledged a miserable A$8 million, which is also a microscopic proportion of it’s $11 billion annual war budget.

The West’s preference for sabre-rattling over genuine aid could have even more catastrophic consequences if human rights campaigner Eric Reeves’ estimates of the numbers of refugees in western Sudan are correct. In an August 9 article posted on the Sudan Tribune website, Reeves wrote that “evidence continues to accumulate that perhaps as many as 1 million people have not been included in the [UN] figures for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. The overall level of destruction of African villages is extraordinary–well over 50% by most estimates.” North-south deal

The West’s hypocritically callous response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur starkly illustrates that for Washington and the EU, Darfuris are mere pawns in the power play to get Western access to the oil profits flowing out of southern Sudan.

Since coming to office in 2001, the Bush administration’s highest priority in Sudan has been to secure a peace agreement with the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The resulting “stability” in Sudan would allow Washington to lift its existing sanctions–imposed in 1997–and thus allow US oil corporations to invest in Sudan.

“A final resolution of Sudan’s civil war could greatly help the country’s economy, lead to the lifting of various sanctions against the country and encourage investment by foreign companies (including oil companies)”, predicted the US government’s Energy Information Administration on August 12.

Washington and the EU all but ignored the atrocities that have taken place in Darfur since February 2003–until, in June and July, Khartoum’s brutal treatment of the Darfuris threatened to derail the north-south peace deal. It was only then that Washington and the EU begin to apply pressure on Khartoum to end the attacks on Darfuri villagers by the government-backed Arab tribal militia or janjaweed.

This culminated in the adoption on July 30 of UN Security Council Resolution 1556. This warned that unless Khartoum made progress in reining in the janjaweed within 30 days, the Security Council would “consider further actions, including measures as provided for in Article 41 [of the UN Charter]”. Article 41 excludes military action but allows economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Since the passage of the resolution, Sudan’s Islamist military regime has manoeuvred to test the limits of how little it can do and still win certification from the UN Security Council that it has made “progress” in settling the Darfur conflict.

On August 9, Sudan’s cabinet ratified a “Plan of Action” agreed between Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail and UN special representative Jan Pronk. Sudan agreed to “identify parts of Darfur that can be made safe and secure within 30 days”, to “cease immediately” offensive military operations in those areas, “identify” those militia over which it has “influence and instruct them to cease their activities”, allow the “voluntary return of IDPs”, “make an unequivocal declaration of commitment to start the Darfur peace talks as soon as possible” and “request support from the AU [African Union] and Arab League to assist in resolving the crisis”. Khartoum reassured

Pronk promised on August 5 that, if this mild agreement is implemented, he was “very hopeful that the Security Council would come to the conclusion that there was indeed substantial progress and that there would be no need to consider further action”. He told the August 12 Khartoum daily Akhbar al Youm that the UN “does not set 30 days as a deadline but as a period which can be renewed and amended until all provisions” of resolution 1556 are implemented.

On August 7, the AU announced that peace talks between Khartoum and the Darfur rebel groups would resume in Nigeria on August 23. On August 8, an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo at the request of Sudan and backed the UN’s approach, calling for Khartoum to be given more time to solve the crisis and rejected “any threat of forced military intervention” in Sudan.

In reality, the UN-Sudan agreement leaves the persecuted non-Arabic-speaking farmers of Darfur firmly under the heel of Khartoum’s repressive forces. Khartoum has promised to boost the number of Sudanese police in the region to 12,000. However, there are widespread reports that many Sudanese police are also janjaweed thugs. Human Rights Watch claims that janjaweed fighters are being absorbed into the police force.

There also reports of displaced people being forced to return to their ruined villages, where janjaweed bandits continue to murder and rape.

The UN, Washington and Khartoum agree that the Darfuri rebels, the Darfuri people’s only defence against the janjaweed’s rampages, must disarm and gather in camps controlled by the janjaweed-infested Sudanese security forces.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs accused Khartoum on August 10 of launching “helicopter gunship bombings” and “janjaweed attacks” in south Darfur that same day. The next day, Pronk absolved Khartoum of any blame, telling Reuters: “So far in all my talks I am meeting a government that is seriously trying to keep the promises made.”

Meanwhile, Sudan is sending mixed signals over its preparedness to allow a 2000-strong AU peacekeeping force into Darfur. While Khartoum has agreed to allow the deployment of 300 troops from Rwanda and Nigeria, due to begin arriving on August 14, Sudan’s interior minister, Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein, told a London Arabic newspaper that “my government will not accept any foreign military presence in Sudan…, be it African or Arab”.

On August 9, however, foreign minister Hussein said that Khartoum “did not have any problem with any number of observers or forces to protect them”, as long as Sudanese forces remain in charge of “peacekeeping”. The AU has not yet formally requested that Sudan agree to a change in the force’s mandate.

US officials are backing Pronk’s conciliatory approach. An August 5 Associated Press report quoted US ambassador to the UN John Danforth as saying Sudan needed to show by August 31 that it was making “a good faith effort” to abide by resolution 1556. US Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted in the August 8 New York Times as saying: “We have to calibrate the pressure that we need to apply on the Sudanese government to make sure we get the results we need, and we don’t create a more difficult situation for us and for the people of Darfur.”

On August 9, Agence France Presse reported that State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli said the UN-Sudan plan of action was a “good start”, the announced resumption of peace talks was “an important development” and that “we’d all prefer for sanctions not to be necessary”.

According to the August 11 Kenyan East African Standard, US Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has been at the forefront of efforts to have Sudan’s repression in Darfur labelled “genocide”, said on a visit to Nairobi that “the US government would not send soldiers to the region because it does not consider military intervention as appropriate”.

Washington’s approach is in line with that recommended by Chester Crocker, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Reagan administration. Writing in the June 10 International Herald Tribune. Crocker urged the Bush administration to “address the immediate crisis in Darfur, while aggressively nailing down the broader north-south peace agreement. The Bush administration has achieved much in Sudan… It must not be blown off course either by the manoeuvres of the north-south parties or by those demanding a sudden shift toward an anti-Khartoum campaign over Darfur.”

NORM DIXON writes for Green Left Weekly.

 

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