Friday, November 09, 2007

Darfur Crisis Update 11-9-07: The Worst Could Happen While the World is Distracted

Image: UNICEF Child Alert

Darfur Crisis Update 11-9-07: The Worst Could Happen While the World is Distracted

By Richard Power

I have tracked developments in both Burma and Pakistan for several years.

Two months ago, I wrote about looming crises in both countries (GS(3) Thunderbolt 9-14-07: In Pakistan, the Dharma Repels an Attack; In Burma, the Dharma Sparks an Uprising); since then, first Burma and then Pakistan have captured the headlines.

Yesterday's news was extraordinary.

In Burma, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years, expressed hope for a "healing process" after she was allowed to hold meetings with senior members of her own political party for the first time in more than three years and then entered into discussion with a go-between appointed by the junta leaders. (AFP, 11-9-07)

In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned from exile only to narrowly escape assassination, was placed under house arrest to prevent her from leading opposition rallies against Musharraf's declaration of martial law. (Reuters, 11-9-07) [UPDATE: She has been released, at least for now. Her life is surely in danger.]

The specter is strangely poignant: two powerful women, both internationally recognized leaders of pro-democracy movements, engaged in struggles with military strong men conducting brutal crackdowns.

Meanwhile, there is the danger that the worst could happen in Darfur while the world is distracted by the crises in Burma and Pakistan, the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq (second only to Darfur in the number of displaced people), and the increasing danger of military conflict with Iran.

The Beltwayistan visit of Bush-Cheney's "sweet little neo-con," French President Sarkozy offers a compelling (and shameful) example: Darfur was not an issue at all during their tête-à-tête. Read the transcript of their joint press conferece for yourself, you will only find Darfur mentioned once in passing. There were no questions on it, there were no proposals about it, there were no announcements of action to be taken, there wasn't even any mention of the talks in Tripoli.

In my most recent Darfur-related post (Burma & Darfur Update: Hypocrisy of Great Nations is Toxic, Complicity of Major Banks & Corporations is Shameless), I referenced a BBC report of "forced relocation of refugees at gunpoint from Otash camp to Amakassara," where they would be more vulnerable to the Janjaweed. (BBC, 10-30-07)

This week, there has been another deeply disturbing development: a senior UN official was ejected from South Darfur after opposing liquidation of the IDP camps. Mia Farrow, Darfur activist and UNICEF goodwill ambassador describes this turn of events as "ominous."

The head of the South Darfur Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was informed he was to leave South Darfur or face arrest and be forcibly removed from the region.
The Wali of South Darfur, the state governor, issued an aggressive threat to a UN delegation sent from Khartoum to pacify rising tensions between the UN and Sudanese authorities in Darfur , informing them that if the Head of OCHA did not leave today then Sudanese authorities would remove him by force.
Last week, the Wali told the UN that should UN officials oppose the dismantling of the camps, from which people are forcibly relocated, he would ensure those officials would be expelled. ...
The latest expulsion comes at a tense time in which the UN is trying to mediate peace talks between rebel groups and the Government of Sudan. The Libya talks have been postponed, with some rebel groups requesting more time. With disunity among the rebels and ongoing violence against civilians on the part of the Government, the peace talks are threatened with failure. Meanwhile, the embryonic UN/AU mission remains dogged by problems, including delayed deployment and the absence, so far, of a commitment from any government of desperately needed helicopters. ...
"Given his pivotal role, the forced removal of the Head of OCHA is a devastating blow from the Sudanese authorities to the humanitarian work of the UN and international aid agencies in Darfur ," says Dr James Smith, Chief Executive of the Aegis Trust for genocide prevention. "He was forced out essentially because he did his job so well. He was resisting a policy that amounts to further ethnic cleansing of Darfur 's African population. With no security to allow them to return home and rebuild, forced removal of the IDPs from the camps gives their inhabitants no choice but to leave the region or die.
"All three strands needed to solve the crisis in Darfur are in trouble: the peace talks are controlled by Khartoum in part because of the disunity of the rebels, the security efforts are nobbled by Khartoum insisting there will be no contribution from non-African countries, and the humanitarian operations are also systematically hampered by the regime."
Aegis Trust, 11-7-07

For a Words of Power Archive of posts on the Crisis in Darfur, click here.

If you want to help save Darfur, here are sites that will show you how:

Mia Farrow

Dream for Darfur

Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Genocide Intervention Network

Divest for Darfur.

Save Darfur!

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