US Raising Stakes over Darfur Crisis

Article excerpt

The US is poised to ratchet up efforts to halt the ethnic cleansing in Sudan's western Darfur region.

This week Washington is expected to introduce a UN Security Council resolution that threatens sanctions against Sudan if it doesn't disarm Arab militias who have been attacking, raping, and killing black villagers in Darfur. This comes after Congress took the extraordinary step Thursday of declaring Darfur's crisis a "genocide" - and pushing the White House to follow suit. Some observers see the declaration of genocide as the first step toward putting US or UN "boots on the ground." An American legal team is here now doing tent-to-tent surveys of Sudanese refugees to determine if genocide occurred.

The crisis is far from over. Officials with the UN refugee agency and other groups are preparing for an influx of 200,000 more refugees here, including people like Um Fahara Muhammad, a recent arrival in Chad. After months of hiding in Sudan's dry riverbeds from Arab militias, she says she and her four children were eating only bits of camel food. So they made an eight-day dash for the border, arriving in Chad around July 11. About 200 new refugees a week come to this border town - one sign Darfur's mayhem hasn't abated.

"At the current level of pressure, Sudan's government will only go so far," says John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group in Washington. The new US steps may be what is needed to get Khartoum to rein in the militias, he says. But short of added pressure, they won't, "because they don't believe Washington or the UN Security Council have the political backbone to take it any further."

In response to the early pressure, Sudan's leaders did start opening Darfur to humanitarian groups, who are struggling to deal with the estimated 1 million people displaced by the conflict, which began in February 2003 when Darfur rebels took up arms against the government. Up to 30,000 have died in the race-based conflict so far.

But Sudan apparently has not clamped down on militias, as it promised to do when US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN chief Kofi Annan visited the capital, Khartoum, in early July. Last week Secretary Powell again accused Khartoum of "supporting and sustaining" the Janjaweed Arab militias.

Many more people like Mrs. Muhammad are still living in fear in Sudan.

She says she and her children hid for months in a dry riverbed, or wadi, near their village after a Janjaweed attack in which she saw two cousins die. When that spot became dangerous, they walked to nearby mountains where 10 other families were also hiding. But Janjaweed and government soldiers prevented them from going to a nearby well, she says. "If you try to go, they kill you or rape you."

When the refugees' food provisions ran out, people first refused to eat camel rations, she says with a grimace at the thought. But then they'd soak it for several days in water, making it more edible. Eventually, even that food ran low. So she risked the border run. Along the way, one donkey "got tired," she says, so they left it, and began carrying luggage on their heads. The other donkey expired just as they crossed the border to join an estimated 180,000 refugees already in Chad. …

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