While Sudan remains mired in turmoil, officials from the Sudanese government and leaders of two rebel factions were scheduled to begin talks Thursday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Representatives of Chad – where refugee camps include about 1 million escapees from Sudan’s western Darfur region – will join the African Union in leading the negotiations, with the hope of ending what the United Nations labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said Thursday:
“Nothing can justify the conflict in Darfur. It is unacceptable. We should work frankly and with a will toward peace. We should be able to make mutual concessions. For Sudan the only way is political dialogue.”
More than 30,000 black Sudanese have been murdered in raids by Arab Janjaweed militias in Darfur, and up to a million could die from disease and starvation.
John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group visited Darfur, and wrote in Thursday’s New York Times about the horrors he witnessed, including mass graves and destroyed villages. He chastised world leaders for not doing enough to stop the slaughter, and for keeping enforcement of cease-fires in the hands of a duplicitous Sudanese government:
“Obviously, in such a dire situation security is paramount, both for the delivery of humanitarian aid and for the creation of conditions to allow Darfurians to return to their homes. For all the visibility of Darfur lately, the United Nations and others have accepted a Sudanese plan under which the wolf will guard the henhouse. The international community has called on the government to disarm the same militias it helped create and arm, and to use the government police to patrol the same camps the regime has been terrorizing. A mere 300 African Union troops spread over an area the size of France are meant to ensure the government’s change of heart.
“This formula guarantees that six months from now the Janjaweed will still be in a position to kill, rape and pillage, leaving unchallenged the ethnic cleansing campaign that has changed the map of Darfur.”
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., members of the Congressional Black Caucus are getting themselves arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in the hope of drawing attention to the crisis. Rep. Charles Rangel did so Tuesday, with Rep. Bobby Rush scheduled to follow suit today. A Rush spokeswoman told The Hill:
“He is angry at the fact that at the dawn of the 21st century we are still at a place in this world where innocent people are being killed and subjected to torture, rape and displacement based on skin color and religious belief. He feels a responsibility to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
After more than a year with the Sudan conflict off its radar, the Bush administration has taken a new approach in recent weeks. Colin Powell visited refugee camps in Darfur in early July, and warned that U.S.-Sudanese relations will not be normalized unless the killing stops. On Tuesday, President Bush used the announcement of an extended trade pact with African nations to make his most public denunciation of the conflict:
“For the sake of peace and basic humanity … I call upon the government of Sudan to stop the Janjaweed violence. I call on all parties of the conflict to respect the cease-fire, to respect human rights, and to allow for the free movement of humanitarian workers and aid.”
While officials meeting in Addis Ababa try to find a compromise, rebels say the Janjaweed continues to rape, kill and destroy villages unabated. And for the refugees, the clock continues to tick.