Human rights groups and the U.S. government raised the alarm this week about various developments related to Darfur. While news of the arrests of prominent Darfuris and the raid on Radio Dabanga’s Khartoum office captured headlines, Enough also received reports from sources in Darfur of troop build-up and movement around the region. These developments, while disturbing in their own right, are all the more so given the ties they may have to the implementation of the government’s new Darfur strategy.
Reports from sources on the ground in Darfur began circulating last weekend, noting a build-up of Sudanese Armed Forces and Janjaweed militias in multiple areas in North Darfur and in West Darfur. The Justice and Equality Movement also reported that small skirmishes with the Sudanese Armed Forces had taken place southwest of Kutum last weekend, and that a rather major scuffle had taken place more recently near the town of Nyala in South Darfur. An increase in fighting was certainly expected with the conclusion of the rainy season, though it does seem to run contrary to the government’s purported objective of achieving a “comprehensive and peaceful settlement that restore[s] life in Darfur."
Similarly, the arrests of Darfur human rights activists, both last weekend and directly following the U.N. Security Council visit, and the closure of Radio Dabanga appear to reveal the government’s real intentions behind the Darfur strategy. While the government claims that its priority is to “achieve security for all people of Darfur, and to provide assurances and incentives for IDPS to return to their homes,” its recent actions suggest that its real priority at this point is to clear the field of anyone who might honestly report on the deteriorating human rights situation on the ground. This, of course comes a few months after the expulsion of humanitarian workers who were verifying the voluntary nature of returns and tracking the trends. All of which suggests that the government’s purported motives for its new strategy, including the desire to see safe and voluntary returns for all Darfuris, should be looked at with a healthy amount of skepticism.
U.S. officials strongly condemned the Sudanese government’s actions toward the activists and journalists, with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice pointing to a larger agenda of repression. “These arrests indicate an emerging pattern of harassment and intimidation by the government of Sudan against civil society in advance of the scheduled January 9 referenda," Rice said.
This story is still developing and will no doubt be even more difficult to follow now that prominent human rights advocates and media outlets with their finger on the pulse in Darfur are in custody.
History would tell us that this confluence of factors is no coincidence. Palpable animosity still exists between Darfuris who feel the international community missed the early days of genocide while mediators focused on securing a peace deal to end the North-South war. Similarly, some southerners feel the conflict in Darfur diverted the international community’s attention when it needed to focus on implementing the newly signed Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is in the interest of the Sudanese government to play the challenges in these two regions – both deserving of international attention – off of each other. Hopefully this time, finally, the international community will be the wiser.
Omer Ismail contributed to this post.
Photo: Local crops for sale at Abu Shouk camp in North Darfur (AP)