How Sudan Plays Cat and Mouse with West ; Leadership Deflects Pressure Aimed at Ending Darfur 'Genocide.' Talks Will Resume This Month

By Abraham McLaughlin writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

How Sudan Plays Cat and Mouse with West ; Leadership Deflects Pressure Aimed at Ending Darfur 'Genocide.' Talks Will Resume This Month


Abraham McLaughlin writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In the sun-bleached deserts of Sudan, where the pharaohs of Egypt once ruled, politics is a secretive, tribal, and brutal sport.

So when an upstart general named Omar al-Bashir staged a coup in 1989 - the fourth since Sudan's independence in 1956 - few people figured this simple man from peasant stock would last very long. He was merely seen as the puppet of a brilliant Islamic cleric named Hassan al-Turabi.

Some even called General Bashir lazy.

But suddenly, in 1999, Bashir was ousting Dr. Turabi from parliament and eventually throwing him in jail. It confirmed what close observers had said for years - that Bashir was far more astute, even wily, than he appeared.

Now, after 15 years in power, Bashir leads a tight-knit cadre of like-minded Islamists, who, many observers say, have been vastly underestimated again - this time by US and other Western diplomats trying to stop a genocide in Darfur, where up to 50,000 civilians have been killed by government-backed militias.

There have been, among other things, two UN Security Council resolutions on Darfur and pressure from Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in Sudan this week. But government-led attacks on civilians continue, the US says.

"I've consistently told Western diplomats, 'The government of Sudan is running rings around you and you don't even know it,' " says John Ashworth, editor of Sudan Focal Point, who's based in Pretoria, South Africa.

In a tacit admission of the UN's inability to stop what the US calls genocide, diplomats now hope a new 3,500-member force from the African Union can bring some stability to the Darfur region. But, at Sudan's insistence, they won't be able to intervene to protect the 1.2 million displaced civilians.

There's also general agreement that threatened UN sanctions against Sudan's leadership and its oil industry won't be implemented - partly because Sudan has rallied support from China, Russia, and the Arab world.

Acknowledging this, America's UN Ambassador John Danforth said this week: "The focus now is on the African Union." AU-sponsored peace talks are scheduled to reconvene in Nigeria on Oct. 21.

One reason Sudan hasn't caved to Western pressure, observers say, is its willingness to wait out the storm. Its patience stems from a basic difference between Western and Sudanese politics. Westerners operate on four- or six-year election cycles. …

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