Sudan: April 11, 2004

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The war in Sudans western Darfur region is now no longer so politically obscure. Its taken awhile, but the scorched earth and ethnic cleansing reported by NGOs and some western news sources is now producing UN and US diplomatic responses. Memories of the Rwanda genocide ten years go is putting pressure on the UN (particularly UN Secretary Kofi Annan) On April 7 Annan, in an address discussing Rwanda in 1994, mentioned the Darfur war and took to task the Sudanese government for denying aid groups access to Darfur. US President George Bush issued a similar statement, asking Sudan to end the attacks on towns and villages in Darfur and permit unrestricted access to humanitarian aid agencies." Moving people and supplies into the Darfur region is a logistical nightmare. Chad lacks the support facilities, for the estimated 110,000 to 150,000 refugees already in Chad. Meanwhile, there are more accusations of genocide leveled against the Sudanese government. One new "coverage theme" portrays the violence as "Sudanese of Arab descent" attacking non-Arab "African" tribespeople. The ethnic dimension is quite accurate, but there is also a "nomad versus farmer" component. The violence in Darfur is also Muslim against Muslim violence. On April 8, the Sudanese government said it had agreed to a 45-day long ceasefire with the Darfur rebels, but subsequent reports indicate that ceasefire is tenuous. Relief organizations hope to use the ceasefire to distribute aid.

Meanwhile, in south Sudan, the promising peace talks between the Sudanese government and the SPLA have reached an impasse over how Khartoum will be governed. This may be a significant negotiating problem, since Khartoum is supposed to remain the national capital. The Sudanese government wants to maintain what it calls "Islamic law" in Khartoum. The SPLA, which represent the predominantly Christian and animist south, says no, if Khartoum is the national capital, then it will reflect Sudan's religious pluralism. This is a hard political pill for the north Sudanese Muslims to swallow. 

 

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