A lethal bully that must be tackled

By Glenys Kinnock, MEP for Wales (THE TIMES, 13/09/06):

“PLEASE STAY with us, don’t leave us” was the desperate plea from a woman I met last year during a visit to a village in Darfur that had just been bombed by the Government of Sudan. Now, as the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force looks set to leave the beleaguered region, her appeal holds renewed poignancy and resonance.

Back then, I could not believe that life in Darfur could get any worse. But the situation in this wretched corner of Sudan is deteriorating rapidly. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis, which has left between 200,000 and 450,000 dead, three million displaced and 90 per cent of black African villages destroyed looks set to plunge even deeper into catastrophe.

Those black African women and children I met, who survived the ethnic cleansing of their villages by the Janjaweed, the Arab, government-sponsored militia, now face the prospect of a serious assault on their villages and refugee camps. These three million traumatised and terrorised victims are more isolated than ever. Because of an unprecedented number of attacks and murders in recent months, humanitarian agencies have withdrawn many staff. The World Food Programme has cautioned that not enough aid is getting through and what does reach people is inadequate for their basic needs.

AU monitors have long ceased escorting women out of refugee camps to gather firewood and so the number of rapes and kidnappings is increasing dramatically. According to one report, in July, in one camp alone, 200 women were attacked and raped.

Now, as things stand, under pressure from the junta in Khartoum, the overstretched and underfunded AU force, struggling to enforce the shaky peace deal, will leave when its mandate ends at the end of the month. Meanwhile, Khartoum continues to reject plans for a UN force to replace the AU, deeming it to be “illegal”.

In the vacuum left behind, the military regime is organising, along with its proxy, the Janjaweed, for a final push to complete its genocidal strategy. Ten thousand troops are massing across Darfur preparing to move in after the AU monitors leave.

The international community should stop hanging on hoping that May’s peace deal can be implemented. Indeed, since the agreement was signed between Khartoum and the largest rebel faction, things have got worse. No deadlines are being met, the genocide continues and there is no longer even a ceasefire to monitor.

Sudan’s rulers continue to draw their own conclusions about how sincere the international community is on Darfur. “Never again” the world’s leaders said, yet they now appear supine in the face of slaughter. The UN’s resolutions calling for a no-fly zone and targeted sanctions against the generals are unenforced.

Too many key players value their commercial links with the Sudanese Government too much to risk offending it. It is no coincidence that Russia, a big supplier of arms to Sudan, and China, a leading consumer of Sudanese oil, have been the most consistent in their refusal to agree to any UN resolution on Darfur. Meanwhile, Sudan has rallied the Arab and Muslim world behind it, or at least ensured that no Arab or Muslim state will criticise its behaviour. Khartoum refuses access to UN peacekeepers, claiming they are part of a colonialist or Jewish plot to invade a Muslim country.

Darfur, eclipsed by crises elsewhere, is in danger of disappearing into the file of “unresolved conflicts” — yet nothing now demands our urgent attention more than the suffering of the people of this region.

It is vital that Europe puts urgent, concerted and serious pressure on Sudan. When the EU commissioners meet the AU next week, President Barroso and Commissioner Louis Michel must work to extend the AU’s mandate beyond the end of the month and should take the opportunity, since they are in the region, to visit Khartoum to put direct pressure on President Bashir. Europe’s leaders must show that Darfur is our priority and ensure the necessary financial support is available to maintain the AU presence until such time as a UN force can be deployed. All diplomatic muscle must be exerted on the key powers, especially Russia and China.

We know the Sudanese junta backs down when there is a cohesive and determined coalition against it. Khartoum retreated when confronted over its resistance to letting in 100 Canadian armoured personnel carriers for AU monitors to use in Darfur. It also rapidly severed its links to al-Qaeda after the US bombed a chemical factory near Khartoum in 1998. So it can be done. But it must be done quickly.

A carrot-and-stick approach is necessary. Sudan’s €400 million “peace dividend” EU aid, granted at the end of the war in the South, could cease until such time that the Sudanese Government co-operates with the UN. An arms embargo beyond Darfur could also be imposed and EU and UN sanctions strengthened. In return for co- operation, the EU could seek to ensure that any UN force would contain a substantial African contingent.

Unless a deal is brokered soon there is a real risk that Darfur will be closed to the world and we will not even know the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe until it is just too late.

The world simply cannot avert its eyes from a situation that has, for a long time, deserved to be called genocide. Indeed, the terror I saw in the eyes of those I met in Darfur I have only seen once before — in Rwanda in 1994. If leaders are serious when they say “never again”, now is the time to prove it.