Amy Costello
Frontline/World Reporter
Wednesday, January 12, 2005 11:00 AM

This Week: FRONTLINE/World Fellow Amy Costello discussed her report from Sudan -- where war in the western region of Darfur has claimed more than 70,000 lives and produced more than two million refugees. In a nearly one-month tour through the conflict-stricken Darfur region, Costello travels with troops from the African Union (AU) and Darfur's sprawling refugee camps.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy,
I found your story to be very, very moving. Thank you. My question relates to the relative attention that the Darfur crisis is receiving. You reported last fall, if I read correctly. Has the tsunami in South Asia had a big impact on the potential to get attention/aid/action to Sudan? Thanks.

Amy Costello: Hello there in Washington. I'm glad to hear that you were moved by the story about the crisis in Darfur. I think it's too soon to say what kind of impact, if any, the tsunami aid effort may have on needy people in places like Sudan.

Amy Costello: Whenever a crisis breaks out around the world, there are concerns how it might negatively impact other regions.

Nonetheless, in the case of Darfur, it seems the humanitarian relief effort is fairly well funded up to now. The bigger problem is growing insecurity in the region. The World Food Program, for instance, had to stop some of its aid convoys due to looting and banditry. Many villages have been empty for months because people are still too afraid to return home. So it's safety and security, rather than humanitarian aid, that the people of Darfur are seeking now. Many say that outside military intervention is the only way to protect vulnerable civilians in Darfur now. But much of the world remains reluctant to commit military resources to Sudan.


Harrisburg, Pa.: What is preventing American involvement in seeing that people at least get food and supplies and that they are protected against being slaughtered? Some have said there are troops and volunteers in other countries that are avaiable to provide these protections, but not the resources. What is preventing America from at least seeing that humanitarian assistance in provided, regardless of any political and other factors?

Amy Costello: Hi Harrisburg. The United States has been a generous donor to the humanitarian relief effort in Darfur. I saw bags of grain marked "USAID" being distributed in camps in Darfur, just as I've seen US-sponsored food and non-food items being given to hungry people all over Africa.

Many American aid agencies are also working on the ground in Darfur, providing critical assistance to the hungry and injured.

However, this is the kind of assistance that many argue is "easier" to supply than comitting soldiers. Troops could ensure that aid convoys aren't attacked while also protecting civilians from harm. The United States and Europe are right now unwilling to deploy their thinly stretched troops to yet another region. The African Union forces now on the ground in Darfur remain under-funded and under-equipped. Many say the US and others should provide more logistical assistance and support to these AU troops.


Maplewood, N.J.: It is very hard to see the images of the devastated peoples of Sudan. What should we (ordinary citizens) be doing to help?

Amy Costello: Hello there. Ordinary citizens can contact their government representatives and encourage them to make bringing peace to Sudan a priority.

Amy Costello: There are also a number of aid groups doing important work in Darfur such as Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, and a host of others. People can support human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis group, both of which continue to do much important work to bring attention to the gross human rights violations now going on in Darfur.


Boston, Mass.: Does the U.S. bear any culpability in this crisis? Either explicit or implicit?

Amy Costello: The United States has been a lead negotiator in trying to bring peace to South Sudan, which has been embroiled in a civil war against the Sudanese government for more than two decades. Just when it looked like the US would get its prized peace agreement signed, fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur.

Some critics say the Bush administration ignored the growing crisis in Darfur because it wanted desperately to preserve the peace agreement that would end Sudan's war in the South. If the US openly criticized the Sudanese government about Darfur, US officials feared the peace deal would collapse completely.

However, just a few days ago, the US got it's long-sought peace agreement for South Sudan. Now, the pressure is on for the Sudanese goverment to turn its attention to Darfur and resolve that crisis, too.


Calgary, Alberta, Canada: To what extent are the displaced people of Sudan aware of the world's actions, or more importantly lack thereof, in regards to their situation and what actions or solutions do they propose, other than the mass camps which seem to be a band aid solution at best.

Amy Costello: Hello Canada. In my travels around Darfur, and also in the refugee camps in neighboring Chad, I found that most people had little knowledge about the circumstances that led to their villages being attacked. Nor did they know much about what the scope of the international response has been. Most people in Darfur are peasant farmers, without much formal education. There's certainly few radios or other news sources that would enable people to understand the situation beyond their immediate vincinity.

What was clear to the people, however, was that aid would be provided to them if they moved into United Nations camps set up in Chad. Or they could go to any of the camps within Darfur and get assistance there, too.

During my visit to Chad, I saw people who'd been living for months alone at the border without any assistance at all. Eventually Red Cross trucks would arrive and bring them to camps where they could be fed and housed.

People in Darfur are also keenly aware of the precarious security situation in their villages. Most people I spoke with say they refuse to return home any time soon. They say they want concrete assurances that they will not be attacked if they go home. I found many people still hiding in mountains and they had literally been there for months. They say they want to see more troops on the ground before they'll return home.


Pontiac, Mich.: We are sending aid but there are those that thing the people in the Darfur region need logistical support. What does our government need to see happen, or what evidence do they need for them in order to take this action? Is this something that the U.S. will not take part in because of our efforts over in Iraq and the upcoming elections? Could you see the U.S. aiding other countries so that they will provide troops or some kind of better security?

Amy Costello: Yes, the African Union troops now deployed around Darfur desperately need more military and logistical support. There are about 1,000 troops there patroling an area that's roughly the size of Texas.

The Sudanese government has made it clear, however, that US and European troops are not welcome in Darfur. So unless these troops want to invade Darfur, the next best option is just what you've suggested: US and EU-sponsored logistical support to the African Union troops now deployed in Darfur. The United States and the European Union have done some of this already. They've provided air support to move troops from Rwanda and Nigeria into Darfur.

Nonetheless, the AU troops we met while traveing in Sudan say they still need much more: aircraft so that troops can bypass Darfur's terrible roads and reach crisis points quickly. They need more and better vehicles. And I understand they'd also benefit from outside military advisors on how best to run the operation in Darfur.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Is the use of the Janaqweed by the Sudanese government a "perpetual terror tactic" by the government to insure not sharing any petro-dollar income?

Amy Costello: Hello LA.

I'm not convinced that the crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur is about a fight over the nation's oil reserves. Most of the country's oil resources are located in South Sudan, far from the fighting in Darfur. However, I do think that the crisis in Darfur is about a fight over resources; mainly land.

Drought has been an increasingly problem in Western Sudan. This has led to clashes between the black African farmers and Arab nomads who move through the region, looking for land on which to graze their cattle.

The government is accused of hiring and training many of these Arab nomads to launch a something resembling a 'scorched earth' campaign in Darfur. The Sudanese government, working in conjunction with the Janjaweed, have driven about 2 million people from their homes and some 70,000 people have died. This bloodshed seems to have little to do with oil. It's about a government desperately trying to hold onto power across a vast and fractured country.


Wheaton, Md.: It seems as though the Darfur region is getting world attention because it involves non-Arab Muslims. The Arab government has been murdering Christians and other religious groups in Sudan for over 20 years and the U.N. does nothing.

Amy Costello: You're right to highlight the gross human rights violations that have been ongoing in Sudan for years. Especially in South Sudan, where the government has been waging a war against mostly Christian and animist Sudanese. There are vast oil reserves in South Sudan, which the government wants to protect.

However, some promising news came out of South Sudan just a few days ago. An historic peace deal has been signed, which is supposed to bring the long-running civil war in the South to an end. As part of the peace deal, the government's agreed to share its oil wealth with the people of the South. Many concede that this peace agreement only happened because of the enormous international pressure that was brought to bear on the Sudanese governement by the international community.

Nonetheless, many share your frustation with the United Nations. Observers lament the fact that millions have died in Sudan at the hands of a barbaric government. And, they say, the world/the UN has done little to stop it. Many now fear that the world is responding with the same kind of inaction in the face of the most recent crisis in Darfur, which the US Congress has labeled genocide.


Washington, D.C.: Amy: Greetings from Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Your report from Sudan was eye-opening, thought-provoking, alarming. You went to some very dangerous parts of the country, and interviewed key leaders. Were there times that you feld that your safety was in jeopardy? How did you secure those top-level interviews?

Amy Costello: Greetings to my Alma Mater.

Yes, it certainly was precarious traveling around Darfur at times. When me and camerawoman and producer, Casey Herrman, arrived in Darfur we we were briefed by UN Security. They warned us that most of Darfur had been declared a "no-go" area for the UN and its personnel. That meant we could not rely on UN vehicles to help us get around Darfur. So Casey and I hired our own vehicle, driver and translator and headed out on our own. We tried to apprise ourselves day-to-day of what the security situation was like on the roads. But the fact is, there's no rule of law in Darfur. Goverment troops, rebel soldiers and ordinary thugs are making it unsafe for anyone to travel. However, we relied a great deal on our translator to talk our way through various government and rebel checkpoints.

As for the top-level government interviews, Casey was great in keeping up the pressure on the liaison every day. We were pleased when she finally informed us that the Foreign Minister had agreed to speak to us.


New York, N.Y.: Great report last night. I recently watched the film Hotel Rwanda about the genocide of more than 800,000 people in Rwanda. Especially upsetting to see in the film was the inaction of the United Nations and the world community in providing protection to the victims. Likewise, in your report on the Sudan, you mentioned an instance when African Union troops stood by as a refugee camp was destroyed. To me, that inaction is inexplicable -- for you, as a reporter, how hard is it on a personal level to document such atrocities?

Amy Costello: I've not seen Hotel Rwanda yet, but am very much looking forward to seeing it. I understand it's quite a remarkable film.

On a personal level, it's always difficult to see such suffering close-up. And especially when it seems like the world could be doing more to protect civilians in Darfur but is choosing not to. I try to tell myself that I do have a role in bringing attention to the crises in Africa. This gives me some amount of solace and energy to continue my work, even though it can be incredibly sad to witness.


Amy Costello: Thanks, each one of you, for your thoughtful questions. They're not easy ones to answer.

I do hope you'll continue to follow the situation in Darfur closely. And if you want to find out more, please go to FRONTLINE/World's website at There you can find a comprehensive website and more about my report from Darfur. And the radio program I work for, The World, also has many stories on Sudan, as they've been following the crisis closely since the beginning:

Thank you.



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