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Large-Scale Sudanese Govt Attacks On Civilians

Africa Action Condemns Resumption of Large-Scale Sudanese Government Attacks on Civilians

In light of the recent security meltdown in Chad and the brutal February 8 attack on Darfuri civilians by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and allied Janjaweed militia, Africa Action calls for heightened U.S. diplomatic pressure to expedite the full deployment of the hybrid United Nations (UN)-African Union (AU) peacekeeping force known as UNAMID to Darfur and pursue truly comprehensive political solutions to all Sudan's conflicts.

The complete absence of any security and disastrous humanitarian conditions along the Chad-Sudan border illustrate that now, more than ever, sustained, wide-ranging international engagement at the highest levels is necessary to honor the international commitment to protect the populations of these regions and address their overlapping conflicts.

On Friday, February 8, Khartoum launched an attack on three towns in West Darfur, north of the regional capital El Geneina, which local and international observers described as "the worst in many, many months." Antonov aircraft, helicopter gunships and horse-mounted militia accompanied by Sudanese troops and land vehicles descended on the towns of Abu Suruj, Sirba and Sileah with an intensity that evoked the gristly, large-scale government-orchestrated attacks common during the early days of the genocide in 2004.

The UN states that 12,000 Darfuris were forced to flee across the nearby border to Chad. Thousands more have been left without shelter, sustenance or protection. Human Rights Watch puts the death toll at over 150, and estimates that 160,000 people in West Darfur have been cut off from humanitarian aid as a result of the attacks.

Aid workers report that Abu Suruj and Sirba have both been partially burned to the ground. While Sudanese military leaders claimed that the assault was directed at Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels, known to draw support from the region, all accounts of the offensive report that civilians were the major targets.

This new violence occurs in an environment along the Chad-Sudan border that can only be described as toxic to the well being of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), Sudanese and Chadian alike. Around 280,000 Sudanese have already fled to eastern Chad, and the capacity of the UN and international aid agencies to support this burgeoning population is overwhelmed.

Internal displacement and chaos resulting from the fierce fighting of the past two weeks between Chadian soldiers and rebel groups has resulted in President Idriss Deby's government announcing that Chad will not accept any more refugees from Darfur, leaving these already homeless civilians with even fewer options to escape future government attacks.

President Bush has repeatedly emphasized his "concern" for these communities, a position last echoed by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in reference to the estimated 200,000 Darfuris displaced by last weekend's attack.

The beginning of 2008 has seen an upsurge in U.S. diplomatic engagement with Khartoum, including a new Bush-appointed Special Envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson, meetings between senior Africa diplomat Jendayi Frazier and Sudanese officials, and a visit on Monday, February 11 to Sudan by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. While these efforts show promise, Africa Action notes that unless they are followed up with vigorous, sustained and proactive U.S. diplomatic engagement with Khartoum and other key countries at the UN Security Council, circumstances on the ground will not change.

As outlined in this recent Africa Action report, Khartoum has successfully obstructed the deployment of the 26,000-person UNAMID peacekeeping force that UN Security Council Resolution 1769 authorized in July 2007. This pattern of resistance by the Omar Al-Bashir-led National Congress Party (NCP) regime can be overcome by concerted international pressure, as demonstrated by Sudan's recent accession to sign a UN-requested Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that will allow UNAMID the legal freedom of movement it needs to deploy and operate effectively. Yet Khartoum has repeatedly broken its promises in the past, and will continue to do so unless faced with the credible threat of international consequences.

The U.S. must lead this multilateral response, using its diplomatic clout to encourage European countries to apply punitive sanctions against the NCP regime and to pressure China to remove its support of the genocidaires. Another key impediment to UNAMID's deployment has been the unwillingness of the international community to provide the helicopters the operation requires.

Bangladesh and Ethiopia's recent announcements they would contribute a handful of vehicles to meet this demand constitute a minor landmark, one that the U.S. must seize as an opportunity to use diplomatic pressure and financial support to generate contributions of the remaining absent helicopters. Persistent yet forceful diplomacy by high-level U.S. diplomats will be vital to ensuring that these forces, once offered by the international community, actually get on the ground over Khartoum's inevitable stall tactics.

As essential as the immediate deployment of a fully equipped UN-commanded peacekeeping force is to the people of Darfur, Africa Action recognizes that a sustainable solution to this crisis relies just as much on a political peace process. UNAMID's deployment and an inclusive political peace process that engages Darfuri rebel groups, the Sudanese government and civil society must unfold together in order to be effective.

Africa Action calls for U.S. leadership to make particular efforts to include women in all restarted political negotiations. The absence of sufficient participation by women leaders was one major flaw in the stillborn 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and recent peace treaties for conflicts in other regions of Sudan. As put forward in the Sudanese Women Declaration on Darfur released at the January 2008 African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, women community leaders should "engage fully and effectively with the Darfur peace process" including regular reports to "the AU and other relevant institutions on all issues of concern for women in Darfur."

Africa Action also stands in solidarity with the call issued by this declaration that Darfuri women engage in regular dialogue with women leaders from across other regions of Sudan. The Bush administration and the international community should both support this channel of communication and model their own diplomatic tactics on a similarly comprehensive approach to Sudan's multiple conflicts.

As Africa Action explains in this December 2007 report, the U.S. must not prioritize protection and peace for Darfur at the expense of supporting resolution to Sudan's other conflicts, particularly the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan's North-South civil war. Over the past two weeks, international attention was focused on the government-rebel battles in Chad and the atrocities in West Darfur while largely ignoring troubling events affecting the fragile North-South peace.

Violence between Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) forces, Misseriya nomads and Sudanese government troops loyal to President Bashir has persisted around the North-South border city of Abyei since December 2007. Despite calls from SPLM/A leadership to avoid fighting, tensions in this region are high. Due to its oil wealth, Abyei remains a point of contestation between the SPLM/A and the Bashir regime in Khartoum. An escalation of this conflict could set off further unraveling of the CPA, with devastating consequences for Sudan as a whole. Africa Action urges the U.S. to engage with all parties to resolve the deadlock around Abyei on the terms agreed to in the binding 2005 Boundary Commission report.

Similarly, the Bush administration should pressure Khartoum to move forward on the process of electoral reform begun this past weekend by the National Constitutional Review Commission in order to meet the April 2008 deadline for the national census that is a vital prerequisite for the 2009 national elections stipulated by the CPA. If the U.S.-led international community fails to achieve progress on the implementation of these key CPA provisions, not only does the North-South conflict risk a return to civil war, but Sudan as a whole will miss the opportunity for democratic elections that might usher in a more representative democratic government.

A high level Sudanese delegation to Washington earlier this February returned to Khartoum with the report that the normalization of Sudanese relations with the U.S. depends on the resolution of the Darfur crisis. This demonstrates that despite Sudan's increased trade with China, the U.S. still holds leverage valued by the NCP, not to mention the SPLM/A officials in Sudan's Bashir-dominated "Government of National Unity."

Africa Action urges the Bush administration to follow through on its rhetoric by taking Khartoum to task on UNAMID deployment and devoting maximum diplomatic capital to reengaging an inclusive peace process for Darfur as well as pursuing solutions to Sudan's other conflicts. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley stated on February 4, 2008 that the U.S. is "leading international efforts to help stop the genocide in Darfur." President Bush must honor this commitment, in response to the pleas of the United Nations, recent demands by Members of Congress from both parties and above all the great need and suffering of the people of Darfur.

ENDS

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