Wednesday, January 12, 2005 11:00 AM
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.pbs.org/frontlineworld. 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: www.theworld.org.