Death squads return to business on Darfur's killing fields

By Leonard Doyle

KHARTOUM - The mounted Arab Janjaweed militia who swooped into defenceless villages in Darfur between 2003 and 2004, killing as they went, are back in business.

Acting as proxies for the Sudanese Government, the militia is thought responsible for 180,000 deaths - killing and expelling African Muslims.

But this time the Janjaweed violence in the western region is more sophisticated. The militia has been burning empty and half-abandoned villages, bringing cattle in to destroy crops before they can be harvested, and targeting the 7700 peacekeepers in the area.

Rebellion broke out in Darfur, led by two groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, who had long resented the discrimination they had suffered at the hands of Arab Muslims in Khartoum.

That rebellion was brutally suppressed by the Janjaweed, but international pressure on Khartoum and the presence of the international media and aid agencies probably saved local African Muslims from genocide.

Towards the end of last year, more than 15,000 people fled their villages for Gereida camp, about 65km from Nyala, the state capital of South Darfur.

Every day aid workers registered families who had walked for days in fear of their lives to get there.

As Human Rights Watch pointed out last month, more than half of Darfur's six million people - Arabs and non-Arabs - now suffer the effects of a collapsed economy, little or no freedom of movement, and the loss of livelihoods from looted and destroyed property.

More than two million displaced victims of "ethnic cleansing" in the region remain confined in camps, where they are dependent on foreign assistance and remain vulnerable to violence.

Yet the Sudanese leadership has shown no sign of changing its policies. There is now a growing belief that the ethnic cleansing and genocide unfolding in Darfur will be stopped only when other Governments and the United Nations Security Council increase their sanctions.

Human rights advocates say that the focus should now be on President Omar al-Bashir, his military commanders and militia leaders who have committed or covered up war crimes.

The country is suddenly in the cross-hairs of the international community, especially the United States and the newly oil-hungry China, which buys the majority of Sudan's oil.

The Russians are there, too, selling arms, while Nato is providing logistics to get food aid to Darfur and to help refugees return south as part of the peace agreement between the Government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, which represents the Christian and animist south.

The great fear is that the end of Sudan's civil war with the south and subsequent peace process have given Khartoum the freedom to butcher its own people in western Sudan.

Two years ago, the US accused Khartoum of genocide. These days, the emphasis is on co-operation. It is not known if Sudan was a centre for the rendition of al Qaeda suspects, but the Economist claims that the CIA is building a listening post on the outskirts of Khartoum to monitor events in the Horn of Africa.

- INDEPENDENT

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