Militia raids refugee camps in Darfur

David Mark

Abc News, 03 Novembre 2006

MARK COLVIN: The mass ethnic slaughter in Sudan's Darfur region comes in and out of the world's focus periodically but despite international hand-wringing, the killing goes on.

The latest militia attacks on refugee camps in Darfur killed 27 children.

The United Nations says the attacks on eight settlements earlier this week forced thousands of refugees to flee.

The UN's Secretary General, Kofi Annan, condemned the attacks and called on the Khartoum Government to do more to protect civilians.

But since Khartoum has just expelled the UN's envoy, no-one seems optimistic that the Sudanese will listen.

David Mark reports.

DAVID MARK: Around 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million left homeless in Darfur since a rebellion against the Khartoum Government began in a little over three years ago.

Darfur's African population is seeking autonomy for the region, an insurgency that's being violently opposed by the Sudanese Government and it's militias.

The United Nations can't give a death toll on the latest attacks by militias on refugee camps earlier this week, except to say 27 of those killed were children.

The tragedy, according to Noah Bassil, an associate Lecturer in politics and international relations at MacQuarie University, who's completing his PhD on the Darfur crisis, is that many more of these massacres are going unreported.

NOAH BASSIL: No I think it's happening quite regularly. Because of the lack of international monitoring, or even local monitoring and news getting out.

The vastness of the area that is involved in the conflict. There is a general belief that it's happening regularly.

DAVID MARK: Now these militias are backed by the Sudanese government, what interest do they have in attacking refugees in refugee camps?

NOAH BASSIL: They're more than backed. I would see them as a proxy, an extension of the military strategy for Darfur.

The Government is employing a tactic that it used regularly in the North/South conflict and it's used elsewhere in Sudan in terms of fighting insurgency movements by attacking the populations from where those insurgencies emerge.

It's an attempt to undermine the support for the insurgency movements.

DAVID MARK: But Noah Basil argues the attacks haven't stopped the resistance.

NOAH BASSIL: Whilst there are some that have attempted to come to terms with the government, the justice and equity movement and certain factions of the Sudanese Liberation Army are still holding our.

They're still well armed and capable of holding their own against the militias and even the military on occasion.

DAVID MARK: The United Nations voted in July to send 20,000 troops to Darfur to take over from 7,000 African Union peacekeepers there. But Sudan's Government has refused to accept the UN forces.

NOAH BASSIL: The major reason I imagine is that the Sudanese Government, and most commentators would agree is that the Sudanese Government's human right's records across the country, not just in Darfur, but across the country is horrendous and it has been for a number of years.

And the idea of intervention in a country that is really ruled by a military dictatorship is seen as somewhat problematic and would certainly undermine the ability of this government to continue to rule.

DAVID MARK: The United States is a key backer of the UN peacekeeping force, but this week US President, George Bush, indicated he was prepared to look for a new solution to end the violence, one that's acceptable to the Sudanese Government.

Noah Bassil argues the best hope lies with an increased African Union peacekeeping force.

NOAH BASSIL: African Union troops are already there, there are 7,500 of them. Beshir, the Sudanese President has indicated that he's not as antagonistic to their presence as he would be to UN troops.

Suggests that that would be the most effective way and a compromise between the UN position and that of Sudan.

DAVID MARK: You said earlier that the government of Omar al-Beshir is very unpopular. Is a peace possible while that government is in place?

NOAH BASSIL: It's difficult to see this government evolving into one that respects human rights and allows for the freedom of the people to live in a secure and stable country.

So it's hard to see this government transforming into one that looks after its population in a respectful and legitimate manner.

DAVID MARK: Then you would argue perhaps that it's likely that the massacres of earlier this week are likely to continue?

NOAH BASSIL: In the current situation, without anything dramatic changing, yes.

DAVID MARK: Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir is currently in China, along with political leaders from 47 other African nations.

China has extensive economic links in Africa and wants to secure its relationships with oil rich countries, including Sudan.

It's for that reason some commentators argue China is reluctant to throw its full weight behind a UN peace-keeping force in Sudan.

NOAH BASIL: There's a fair bit of credibility to those claims. And oil of course is one of the key resources, if not the key resource in terms of international trade today.

So, the Chinese are certainly not going to endanger their access to oil in Sudan by permitting a successful UN vote on peace-keeping.

MARK COLVIN: Noah Basil, who lectures in politics and international relations at MacQuarie University with David Mark.