Sudan's ethnic cleansing
IT IS A SAD TRUTH, illustrated almost daily, that the global village tends
to be strangely selective with its bouts of conscience. Some humanitarian
catastrophes are beamed into millions of homes and reported on the front
pages. Certain conflicts are bemoaned by political leaders and debated at the
United Nations. Yet in other places, disasters of war, ethnic cleansing, and
genocidal slaughters seem to elude the world's attention.
So it is in Sudan, where atrocities are being committed by the ruling
National Islamic Front in the region of Darfur, near the border with Chad.
During a visit to the region in December, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's
Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Sudan, Eric Vraalsen, said he was
shocked by what he saw of conditions for internally displaced people and
refugees in Chad. In the intervening two months, the situation has only become
worse. Although Sudan's central government denies access to relief
organizations, a tidal wave of human suffering looms ahead.
The dictatorship in Khartoum is responsible for driving more than 700,000
people from their homes. UN staff members working on this humanitarian calamity
fear that 3 million more, defined as war-affected civilians, are at imminent
risk. Estimates of the number already killed run as high as 30,000, and, with
agricultural production brought to a halt, mass starvation may soon accompany
genocidal massacres, death by exposure, and disease.
Amnesty International and the Associated Press have reported the regime's use
of bombers to attack villages of the tribes asking for autonomy from the central
government and a fair share of Sudan's natural resources. As in southern Sudan
-- where 2 million people have died in a war between the Arab Muslim regime in
the north and black African Christians and animists of the south -- Khartoum has
armed Arab militia forces known as the Janjaweed to loot and burn African
villages. The principal difference is that in western Sudan, the victims as well
as the raiders are Muslim.
On Thursday, three small rebel groups in western Sudan said they would attend
peace talks in Geneva Feb. 14. The Bush administration, which has been promoting
peace talks for southern Sudan, should back the Geneva talks as well. But there
is an even more pressing need to make Khartoum cease denying access to displaced
refugees of Western Sudan. The world must be made aware of their plight and see
to it that they are sheltered, fed, and returned safely to their homes.