Sudan makes case abroad while still bombing Darfur
President Omar al-Bashir says international interference will hamper peace. Darfuris ask: 'What peace?'
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Insecurity – especially for the close to 17,000 humanitarian workers bringing aid to some 2.5 million people displaced by the conflict – has never been so acute. Armed robberies and hijackings of aid compounds and vehicles are almost daily occurrences and have now begun taking place in the middle of Darfur's main towns. Vehicles are so vulnerable to attack that UN agencies in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur, no longer drive outside town. Trips are routinely canceled for security reasons and aid workers feel they have been put in a "stranglehold," as Gregory Alex of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs puts it.Skip to next paragraph
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The government insists its military operations are to clear the routes of bandits who have made humanitarian work in some parts nearly impossible. It says the rebels are presenting its operations as attacks against them in order to win battles in the information war.
"The armed forces have the right and the duty to make the routes safe generally for all travelers," says Sudanese military spokesperson Sawarmi Khalid Saad. "Some of the [nongovernmental organizations] have left their work in Darfur because of this insecurity. We have to stop it."
Yet the result has been the opposite: the recent fighting has caused at least one NGO to halt its operations, leaving 20,000 in the Khazan Tungur area without medical care.
And while the government insists it is trying to find peace in Darfur – even signing peace agreements with insignificant split-off members of rebel groups in an effort to extend the illusion, analysts say – a top official from the ruling National Congress Party says the government should not be negotiating with "terrorists," calling the 2006 peace agreement with the most powerful rebel group a "very stupid" move motivated only by "tremendous pressure" from the West.
"I am not condoning everything that our government does. I think one of the most stupid acts they have done is to sign an agreement with those rebels, who are bandits," says Osman Khalid Mudawi, chairman of the foreign relations committee at the National Assembly. "Sudan could have used the language of the time…. Sudan should have refused ever to talk to them and branded them as terrorists and no one would have blamed Sudan."
So fragile is the peace the government is parading publicly in its quest to suspend the ICC case that the aligned rebel group maintains its own weapons, vehicles, and headquarters. Two major fights between both sides have broken out in the last six months alone.
"The government says: 'I want peace,' then it turns around and bombs [us]," says Moussa Abul Qasim, of Tabit village, where fighting recently broke out between the SLA and government troops. "It's all lies."
And many humanitarians think it is only going to get worse. Increased movement of government troops; tactical unification among splintered rebel factions; the end of the rainy season, which hampers military movement; the end of the holy month of Ramadan; and an ever-nearing decision by the ICC on whether or not to prosecute make for an ugly combination.
"People who have been here a long time say this conflict is as bad now as it has ever been," one UN official said. "Things are going to worse before they get better."