Peacekeeping: How Sudan Maintains Silence in Sudan

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May 31, 2007: In Darfur, the local civilians are not the only victims of the Sudanese governments violence. Foreign aid workers have been terrorized into cooperating with the government. It's a pretty clever strategy. It began with the government allowing foreign aid groups in, but giving them a hard time with their paperwork. The foreign aid workers need permission (and the right paperwork) to get in and out of the country, and in and out of Darfur. Same with any equipment or supplies being brought in. Because of all the armed gangs running around Darfur (rebels, bandits, government backed militias, soldiers and police), the aid groups needed protection. The government discouraged the hiring of local men for security jobs, and, in effect, ran an extortion racket. If the aid groups paid, the bandits stayed away from the relief supplies, and the aid workers. But money wasn't enough. The government also expected the aid workers to keep silent about the violence they were witnessing. Many aid workers could not keep silent. This was duly noted by Sudanese officials, and aid workers were attacked (and sometimes raped if female) and occasionally killed. In the last three years, about one aid worker a month has died this way. The aid workers got the message.

Journalists got similar offers, at least the few who were allowed into the country. But the journalists were less vulnerable than the aid workers, and were able to get to the victims, often using anti-government translators who had to keep an eye out for death squads sent out to deal with such "traitors." But these unique government "public relations" methods worked. While some information about the atrocities got out, most did not. The word is getting around, in the tight world of dictators and tyrants, that, under the right conditions, you can pretty much shut down those pesky journalists and talkative aid workers. Plus, you pick up some extra cash in the form of protection payments. A little murder and rape here and there keeps everyone in line, and reminded how serious the government is.

Darfur is the perfect place for this sort of thuggish censorship. It's an isolated place, and there are lots of heavily armed groups wandering about, most of them pro-government. But the use of terrorism against aid workers and journalists is nothing new. However, in Darfur it has been most effective.

 


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