Q&A: Crisis in Darfur

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What is happening in Darfur?

In early 2003, an armed conflict started between an alliance of the Sudanese government forces and ethnic Arab militia and two non-Arab African rebel groups called the Sudanese Liberation Army/ Movement (SLA/SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Instead of fighting the rebels, the government forces have waged a systematic campaign against unarmed civilians belonging to the same ethnic groups as the rebel groups--mainly the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

What is the ethnic and religious composition of Sudan?

Ethnically, Arabs make up 39 percent and Africans 61 percent. Religiously, Muslims make up 70 percent and the rest are Christians and traditional believers. The central government has been dominated by Arabs and Muslims since the country's independence in 1956.

What are the ethnic divisions in Darfur?

Dozens of ethnic groups inhabit Darfur, groups of Arab and African ethnicity who have lived peacefully side by side in the past. The majority is non-Arabic farmers of African origin. Among them, the largest ethnic group is the Fur.

The Arab groups have complained of political marginalization by the Fur. The Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa complain of political marginalization by the Sudanese government. Since the current government took power through a military coup in 1989, it has changed administrative systems and taken other measures that are perceived to be supporting the political and economic cause of the Arab ethnic groups.

What are the religious dimensions of the conflict in Darfur?

There is no religious conflict. Almost all Darfurians are Muslims. There have been incidents, however, of government forces and Arab militias desecrating mosques, killing imams and others seeking refuge inside mosques, and desecrating the Koran while attacking Africans.

What are the economic causes of the war?

Darfur is a very poor region almost entirely dedicated to subsistence agriculture and livestock herding for domestic and export purposes. The settled Fur and other African population have farmed the most fertile parts of central Darfur for generations, usually producing a surplus. …