AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 32/2004

Sudan: Death in the Ghost House

The West and the United Nations are putting pressure on Islamic President Bashir to end the killing in Darfur - on humanitarian grounds, but also so that the oil business will run smoothly. So far military intervention has not been mentioned.

The wadis are filling with water now. It is the start of the rainy season. In southern Darfur the first trucks carrying food aid are getting stuck in the mud. In northern Darfur they often don't even leave the warehouses, even though these are gradually filling up with foodstuffs. A merciless fight for survival has begun - transporting food aid to the starving is getting more and more difficult.

The situation was already desperate before: "Entire villages were razed, the huts burned, the people slaughtered or driven away," Johan van der Kamp of the [German] World Hunger Aid organization says.

Now the heavy summer rains have come and the next chapter in western Sudan's tragedy is about to begin. Perhaps the consequences will be even worse than the continuous terror inflicted by the Janjaweed militia riders who for a year have been depopulating broad regions of this almost inaccessible land. Aid workers have been able to reach the refugee areas in spite of unfavorable conditions. But for innumerable Darfuri it is too late.

"True, we're there," says van der Kamp, "but we have scarcely any food to distribute because the supply lines are blocked. It could be that we will be the helpless witnesses to mass starvation." The people who escaped the Janjaweed can now expect to die of hunger. Van der Kamp's colleagues say they are afraid that up to a thousand people are dying daily - somewhere on the barren plateau of Darfur.

For the government in Khartoum the rainy season comes at a convenient time. It wants the fewest possible foreign eyewitnesses who will be able to send back reports of starvation and genocide. These days, the international community has made the "Wild West" of this multiracial state its most important concern. Europeans, Americans, and the UN have finally roused themselves and have put pressure on the military regime of 60-year-old Islamic General Umar al-Bashir.

Last April, the German Federal Government succeeded in getting the UN Security Council to deal with the subject of Darfur; several cabinet members publicly criticized the violation of human rights in Darfur. Subsequently Colin Powell, Joschka Fischer, and Kofi Annan went to Sudan. Clearly the subtext of their visit was that this African country, the largest in Africa, is too important for the chaos in Darfur - a region the size of France - to be ignored.

Last Monday the European Union also denounced the orgies of slaughter and expulsion. Great Britain even considered sending 5,000 troops, then decided in favor of a UN force.

The next day Sudan summoned the German and British ambassadors to protest any interference or possible intervention. Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said his country would "not submit quietly" but would "strike back." Ambassador Hans-Günter Gnodtke was told in no uncertain terms that the Germans should "moderate their hostile attitude."

It was a feeble attempt by Sudan to demonstrate its sovereignty. The week before last, the U.S. House of Representatives in a unanimous vote, labeled events in Darfur "genocide," which by UN standards justified military action. Last Friday Washington introduced a resolution at the UN in which the UN, with China and Pakistan abstaining, officially committed itself to deal with the crisis.

The Khartoum regime at once rejected the resolution, which required that it disarm the Janjaweed whom it had up to now been half tolerating, half supporting. The UN has set a deadline of 30 days to bring peace to the region. Otherwise, short of imposing sanctions, the Security Council will decide on "measures" that would amount to the same thing. But the resolution was toned down in one important respect: There was no explicit mention of genocide - so the option of military intervention remains open.

George W. Bush, his eye on the U.S. Black vote, cannot afford to tolerate the situation in Darfur without doing something. But since another military intervention is not opportune for Washington after its costly adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has urged the UN and the European Union to take action.

The Europeans, on the other hand, are ready to provide eight of the 150 observers who are to supervise the anticipated suspension of hostilities from six locations in Darfur and report any irregularities to the African Union in Addis Ababa. The AU apparently will send 360 soldiers in early August to protect the observers. These soldiers would comprise the first neutral military group in Darfur. The European Union intends to finance them to the tune of twelve million euros.

"The world is watching this drama unfold," warns the Chairman of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, Bernard Bot of the Netherlands. And in addition to all the human suffering, some nations also see their economic interests threatened.

Russia has just sold twelve MIG-29 fighter planes to Khartoum. Renault has assured itself of a near-monopoly for buses. Korea is the principal source of automobile imports. Arab states import large quantities of meat from Sudan, and not the least of their worries is that the U.S. could topple still another Arab government, this time with help from the UN.

But primarily it is the Sudanese oil reserves, an estimated two billion barrels, that make the country such a focus of attention. For example, China National Petrol Corporation has obtained a license to work the oilfields, among them Block 6 which extends through the south of Darfur. Last week the European-Asiatic consortium Petrodar signed a 1.4 billion euro deal.

Businesses deals like this require basically stable conditions. Joschka Fischer's unequivocal declaration that "Darfur cannot be left to its own devices" is therefore not just a hollow phrase, but a program. Escalating unrest and a government that doesn't have a grip on the situation in its own country are poison to profitable trade.

Recently 50,000 Darfuri have lost their lives. In some of the refugee camps there is only one well for thousands of people. As recently as July 3rd Bashir promised the UN that he would disarm the Janjaweed within 90 days. Four thousand out of a total of 6,000 soldiers have arrived already to protect the population, Bashir said.

Yet almost nothing has changed. Many of those who have been forced from their homes testify unanimously that they have been repeatedly attacked from the air - apparently by military jets belonging to the Junta. Its leader, who grabbed power in a coup in 1989 and heads an Islamic dictatorship, could very soon find himself near the very top of a list of villains.

Darfur is only one of many Sudanese conflict zones. About 600 ethnic groups live in Sudan, which has 32-million inhabitants. Numerous ethnic groups are fighting for more influence or to achieve autonomy, which the South was supposed to have been given after two decades of revolt. In July 2002, the government, pressed by the U.S., agreed to a cease-fire with the southern Sudanese rebels (SPLA) led by John Garang. At that time an agreement for autonomy was arrived at in Naivasha, Kenya.

In fact, Sudan, which is as much as 70 percent Muslim, is supposed to be divided into an Arab, Koran-following North and an "African," black South. There are to be two currencies, two tax systems, and two separate armies. Any oil income that foreign consortiums are not entitled to is to be divided. In three years, according to the autonomy blueprint there would be an election. After another three years, a referendum would be held in which all Sudanese would decide whether they really want the partition.

By the end of August the parties to the war intend to work out an agreement for the future of a state that will be called "Balad al-Sudan" (Land of the Black People), but which, since its independence from the British crown in January 1956, has been ruled ruthlessly by lighter-skinned Arabs - and which is, according to Rainer Tetzlaff, a Sudan expert from Hamburg, "a Ghost House in which the torturers say what goes."

The situation in Sudan recalls the Thirty Years' War in Europe: countless fronts, changing alliances - and those who suffer most are the common people. The bloodbaths in recent decades are said to have caused two million deaths. An estimated 1.2 million people are currently homeless refugees.

Consequently few people believe in a lasting peace. "The American approach has not been thought through; too few of the opposing groups have been included," a noted Western diplomat warns. The result is sobering: "Two dictators are shaking hands now in Naivasha - Bashir and Garang - and Sudan is threatened with Somalization."

In the South, at least, a majority is for partition; the cultural gulf between Blacks and Arabs is too deep, the hatred too firmly rooted. Partition would correct the old colonial borders for a second time since the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia.

Darfur is neither part of the Christian-Animist South, nor of the Muslim North. In the late nineteen-eighties, Khartoum armed the Janjaweed so that they could suppress rebellious tribes there. And back then, according the Sudan Democratic Gazette, this resulted in a "genocidal" attack on the old established population."

Eighteen months ago, when the agreement between the North and the South was signed and it became clear that the three million Darfuri would gain nothing from it, the rebels intensified their resistance. Thereupon the Janjaweed, like riders of the Apocalypse, came dashing in on their horses and camels. They murdered, they raped, they enslaved black children.

By the time the government finally attempted to stop the merciless killing, it was too late. Some Janjaweed leaders like Mussa Hilal have 12,000 loyal fighters at their command.

Now, finally, the Darfuri resistance fighters' time has come. If the South is given its independence, they argue, then a comparable solution must be found for Darfur. There too the vast majority of the population is Black. The province must no longer be denied political control and prosperity.

Its fighting arm, the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) seeks to close ranks with John Garang's Sudanese SPLA, who, thanks to Washington, can already envision independence.

But by enhancing the SPLA, the Unites States may have overshot its target of achieving peace in this oil-rich state, which is so important to it. There are now reports of unrest in the East of Sudan: Fighters of the Beja people are attacking government installations there. Only those who use violence get a hearing; that is the lesson his people have learned, Umar Mohammed Tahir, a leading Beja politician says.

The negotiations in Naivasha could have earth-shaking repercussions across the entire continent. A radical change in Sudan may be a signal for peace in a region troubled by wars - but it could also stir up a huge number of violent efforts to obtain autonomy.

Wherever there is ferment in Africa, there are calls for territorial realignment, for a revision of the borders arbitrarily and thoughtlessly drawn in 1884/85 by the colonial powers at the Berlin Conference. Up to now such demands seemed hopeless. But Eritrea and now Sudan have demonstrated that the impossible is doable.

One can already see the perspectives of peace in the southern Sudan village of Pabuong. For years four-engine Soviet Antonovs brought only death to this place. They dropped bombs and barrels of burning gasoline and regularly turned parts of this oil-rich region into an inferno.

Now these planes are no longer flown by government soldiers, but by UN pilots and they release ton-loads of foodstuff to the starving population: salt, sorghum, soybeans, corn, and wheat. In Pabuong alone more than 4,000 tear-proof sacks from the World Food Aid Program have been raining down, to be dragged off by the tall women of the Nuer tribe. These deliveries to a landscape of swamps and lakes which no Land Rover has ever penetrated will assure the survival of about 12,000 people for at least three months.

A civil war raged here from 1955 to 1972. It boiled up again in 1983, lasting until just a few months ago. Among others, the Nuer, a pitch-black people whose tribe members were either converted to Christianity or still honored their old nature gods, were fighting against the Islamic Arabic central government in Khartoum and its mounted militia bands. But now and then, they also fought against the Dinka tribe.

"The enemy is quite close by," Mathew Makuel Chuol says. He is the head man in Pabuong and maintains order in the village in accordance with the wishes of the SPLA: "In the North, the Arab militia lie in wait, only ten hours away on foot. In the South, the Dinka are only nine hours away,."

John Garang has set up an army camp several hundred kilometers to the south. They've called their headquarters in the fight against the Arabic government "New Site." It consists of several masonry houses in the desert, not far from the Kenyan border - a sleepy but at present unusually bustling nest of rebels. Garang has summoned 479 tribal chiefs from the area controlled by the SPLA. Never before have so many representatives of Sudanese tribes gathered in one spot.

Here too, at the meeting in New Site's weathered schoolhouse the subject is the reorganization of Sudan. Because at the same time he is negotiating with the government, Garang must unite the South behind him; otherwise a civil war against the Arabs could turn into a fratricidal war among Black people.

More than 400 ethnic and cultural groups live south of the Muslim sphere. Besides the Dinka and Nuer, there are Shilluk, Azande, Toposa, Berti, and others - an explosive situation. Nevertheless, John Garang seems relaxed. A former lieutenant colonel in the Sudanese Army who in the past was accused of the most serious human rights violations, he already sees himself as president.

"The clock can no longer be turned back," the rebel leader says confidently. What is important now is to build up a country "in which from the time of Adam and Eve no paved road has ever existed."

He wants a railway line that, "like the lifeline of our independence" would connect southern Sudan with the port of Mombasa in Kenya and the Uganda capital Kampala, as well as roads and pipelines so that this region will no longer be dependent on the northern harbor, Port Sudan.

SPLA Vice President Riek Machar is sure that "Garang will be the new Sudanese president; either of all Sudan or, if the majority votes for partition, of the South. At least 90 percent of the South Sudanese want their own state."

It is not at all clear whether this will be a blessing or whether it signals a descent into anarchy.

RÜDIGER FALKSOHN, JAN PUHL, THILO THIELKE

Translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo

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