Dark anniversary for Darfur

The deadly conflict in Darfur entered its sixth year on Tuesday with no solution in sight, as Khartoum continued to resist the full deployment of a peacekeeping force amid a fresh wave of bombings.

The anniversary coincides with visits to the country by Washington’s special envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson, and China’s point man for Darfur, Liu Giujin, for top-level talks aimed at nailing down an elusive peace.

United States President George Bush has said that genocide is taking place in Darfur, while Beijing has been accused of supplying many of the arms being used to crush the insurgency and of turning a diplomatic blind eye to the violence.

The United Nations said earlier this week that new bombings were endangering thousands of lives in Darfur, seeking reassurances that more civilians would be allowed to flee to join the estimated 2,2-million already displaced by the conflict.

The UN refugee agency has said that two days of heavy bombardments and attacks by the Sudanese army and Janjaweed militia earlier this month in western Darfur prompted about 12 000 more refugees to flee into eastern Chad.

Ravaging one of the most remote and deprived places on earth, the conflict pits ethnic minorities fighting for resources and power against state-backed Arab militias.

International organisations estimate that 200 000 people have died since 2003, with more than a third of the six-million Darfuri population displaced, although the Khartoum government puts the death toll at 9 000.

About 4,2-million people in the area live on aid handouts.

Most experts say the war started on February 26 2003 when rebels attacked a garrison in North Darfur state, complaining of economic and political marginalisation, although simmering ethnic violence had occurred earlier.

The Sudanese government recruited and armed militia called Janjaweed, which in Arabic literally means “devils on horseback”, to back the fierce scorched-earth campaign meted out by its own armed forces.

Chinese envoy Liu was in Darfur for the anniversary, handing over aid in a bid to show Beijing’s support for the beleaguered population.

“For the Chinese government side, we’re ready to extend our helping hand,” Liu said in Khartoum.

Bush and US officials have expressed increasing impatience at the slow deployment of a new UN-mandated peacekeeping mission, which merged with a poorly equipped African Union force on January 1.

The new mission, the UN’s largest, will eventually consist of 26 600 troops and police, but only 9 200 such personnel are currently deployed.

Khartoum, however, lashed out at Western criticism of the slow deployment, criticising UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s expression of alarm over renewed violence in Darfur as “unfortunate”.

Instead, presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie pointed the finger at Britain, France and the US for the peacekeepers’ slow deployment.

“Lack of funding is the reason behind the delay in the deployment of the hybrid operation,” Nafie said on Sunday.—AFP

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Jennie Matthew

Jennie Matthew

Matthews is an AFP New York correspondent. Previously in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Sudan and Middle East Read more from Jennie Matthew

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