SUDAN WATCH: What’s behind the horror in Sudan?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What’s behind the horror in Sudan?

The purpose of this post is to explore and work out my growing unease over what seems to be going on in Sudan. Not sure if my hunches are correct, or what is to be gained by writing about them.

Perhaps I am trying to figure why I find it so difficult to swallow the news that is now being reported on Sudan. Maybe I have lost faith in the UN and the whole political process. Today when I saw a report that quoted Colin Powell's latest on Sudan, my eyes glazed over and the report meant absolutely nothing. For some reason it all sounds hollow, false and manipulative. When the UN churns out another report quoting the latest from Kofi Annan, I'm sure I shan't believe a word of it. For reasons that I am about to explain, it all looks like a murky business and a charade that is being played out to placate the public.

This post is a conversation I'm having with myself, talking out loud about the roles of the UN and US in Sudan, in an attempt to clarify my thoughts on events since April of this year, when I picked up on story from Jim Moore's Journal, and started blogging about genocide in Darfur.

Also, I am asking myself what it means for us to get news on thousands of people being slaughtered, with warnings that many more thousands could be murdered if we don't do something. If we don't do something to help, is technology merely enabling us to be passive voyeurs, ghoulishly watching stories of mass murder unfolding while we sit in the comfort of our cushioned chairs and safe surroundings? If we don't like what we see or hear, are we meant to switch off our computers like we do with the TV and radio and turn a blind eye? Shrug our shoulders?

Decades ago, it would take days or weeks or even months for news to reach us, by which time the event had occurred and there wasn't amything we could do. But these days, with the immediacy of the Internet, we get a rough idea of what is going on in most parts of the world within an hour or even minutes.

Information contained within most media reports on the Sudan seem mainly to originate from carefully constructed press releases issued by all sides, ie regime in Khartoum, Darfur rebels, international community and others that have a vested interested in the Sudan. Very little hard news. It makes one wonder just how much of it is propaganda. Reports by aid agencies are sanitised and pitched for fundraising. Some reporters provide news from the ground in Sudan but not enough to give a true picture of what, and who, is behind the horror in Sudan and why.

Could it all boil down to oil and arms? In a nutshell, yes, I think it could. It seems none of those from outside of Sudan who are involved in the negotiations value the life of a Sudanese nomad as much as their own. Otherwise 50,000 deaths would have been prevented. Could the world's failure to provide practical help, even after the first 10,000 Sudanese were slaughtered, stand as evidence of racism?

If 10,000 murders occurred in the State of Texas, or the countryside of England, there would be tens of thousands of troops on the scene to try and stop such a massacre. Think back to Wako, Texas and heavy tanks firing at the walls of a compound to destroy a sect of civilians that were perceived as posing some sort of threat.

The lives of nomadic Africans do not appear to mean much to the rest of the world: 2 million slaughtered in the Sudan; 50,000 wiped out in Darfur; 800,000 massacred in Rwanda; 3 million in the Congo; a few more million in Uganda ... the list goes on. But 3,000 on 9/11 in New York City goes down in history and changes the world. Why?

Is the answer that life on American soil is of greater value than life on African soil?

Having said that, genocide took place in Bosnia just ten years ago. Bosnia is just a two hour flight away from England. The people murdered in Bosnia were not Africans or Arabs. Genocide took place in Germany some 60 years ago, many Germans were in denial and turned the other cheek.

What is the answer? I am still trying to understand the reasons for mans inhumanity to man. So far, I've discovered genocide has occurred throughout history, will continue to happen and not a lot will change for at least 5,000 years or more. In other words, man is a predator, it is part of human nature and evolution, or so I am told - I'm still trying to get my head around that one.

As an aside note, I once live in London SW1 which is south of the river Thames. I invited someone from North London to dinner. She considered herself as well to do and part of a clique in North London that considered venturing over the other side of the river was a no-no. I chortled and was amazed to discover there were definite north south divides in London.

Seems wherever one goes there are divisions of one kind or another. Maybe it's a natural thing for people to gravitate and gather into little tribes; a sort of comfort zone that's made up of people who think, talk, look and behave in similar ways.

Could there ever be a way for us to do something to stop mans inhumanity to man? Perhaps democracy is not the be all and end all to everything. I've posted on this subject before. Maybe something new will happen: something that has not yet been thought up. Whenever I question the value of democracy, my thoughts turn to Jim Moore's essay the "Second Superpower" - and I get to wondering if communications technology is the thing that puts power into the hands of the people.

Trouble with that is, not enough people seem to care to think about issues deeply enough or feel moved enough to take action. Half can't even be bothered to vote. Most seem to just want others to do their thinking for them, lobby for change and take care of issues.

It's no wonder a handful of greedy ruthless gangs of people dotted around the world feel free to get away with murder and do as they please, creating misery and havoc for millions of others. The wheeling and dealing that goes on unnoticed and unchecked is astounding when you really look into what is going on. The arms and oil trade in particular, not to mention the environment.

In today's information society we get to know what is going on around the world at the press of a button. Does all of this communications technology just enable us to be voyeuristic passive bystanders? Are we supposed to act on the knowledge?

We cannot say we did not know what was going on in Darfur during the past five months. Faced with such information, what can we do about it? I am curious about this aspect of the great new era we now find ourselves living in. Knowledge is power. But, going back to what happened over 60 years ago in Germany: people knew genocide was happening then but felt helpless to do anything about it. What has changed in 60 years?

The UN's reports on Sudan can be extra interesting when they contain hidden or cryptic messages from Kofi Annan. The UN website carried an 'off the cuff' report that quoted Kofi Annan as saying some of what he says in press reports are messages to those on the ground. Which may explain why he seems to come across as speaking with forked tongue half of the time.

After what went on with the UN and the countless number of resolutions over Iraq, it would appear the UN is much more political and not as neutral as it makes out to be.

A few days ago the UN's head of refugees Ruud Lubbers floated, aired, and voiced ideas to the media suggesting that the Government of Sudan give autonomy to Darfur. Mind boggling, and goes to show how the media is used to feed us information they want us to know but not the truth of what is really going on. News reports don't seem to explain things properly. For instance, there is never any mention of the US intelligence base in Africa or what the French are doing with their mirage jets in the area and the 200 troops on the Chad-Sudan border.

Who funded the rebels over the past 19 months; where do their supplies, arms and ammunition arrive from; how come the UN did not choose to impose an arms embargo, as opposed to oil sanctions, on Khartoum?

It's been five months now since I started following daily news on the Sudan. And have still not found a clue that helps answer my original question: why did the regime in Khartoum - along with with the US - after so many years of working together on shaping the north-south peace accords - both see fit to exclude western Sudan from the deal?

In other words, how come the Darfur rebels, chose March 2003 to take up arms in protest against being marginalised, after years of negotiations on the north-south deal? Why did the rebels not protest earlier? Why did the armed rebellion only come to the world's attention in April 2004. The north-south ceasefire agreement was signed in May 2004 and the peace accords were reaching their final phase. Why did the rebels not make their demands known at the negotiating table - why did they start an armed rebellion?

Seems (to me) there is more to the Darfur war than meets the eye. I can't forget seeing reports of oil being discovered in Darfur and near the Sudan-Chad-border, and that there may be plans afoot to lay a new oil pipeline in Darfur.

Back in May I came across news reports that explained what would happen after the peace accords were signed: the UN were to provide a small peacekeeping force in September 2004 to act as an advance party to monitor the peace. followed by, in late December 2004, a much larger UN peacekeeping force.

What I am saying is, ever since May, after 10,000 deaths in Darfur had been reported, and we started blogging about genocide in Sudan - nothing new has really happened that wasn't already on the cards back then. Why? 40,000 more deaths have been reported. 3 million deaths occurred in the Congo, a few million in Uganda. Why the focus on Darfur? Can anyone explain?

Recently Kofi Annan blamed the slow response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur on donors. The Darfur war started 19 months ago. How much warning do the UN need?

USAID and the UN have since received large donations and further pledges of aid. African Union were recently quoted as saying they expect from the USA much more than the 200 million US dollars provided for the reconstruction of Nigeria (I need to check my facts) in return for providing 5,000 AU peacekeepers for Darfur.

The UN's peackeeping plan for the peace monitoring of Sudan was revealed back in May in readiness for when the north-south peace accord was signed. Who was set to pay for such a force? The US, I guess. So why was it never possible in the past five months for the plan to be brought forward and avoid 40,000 deaths, not to mention the sheer misery and suffering of hundreds of thousands other Sudanese.

Countries that are in talks with Khartoum seem to have a vested interest. Germany won a huge contract for building the new Sudan-Kenya railway. China is contracting Russia to help lay new oil pipelines in Sudan. India and Malaysia have struck new deals with Sudan. Huge contracts are up for grabs for the construction of Sudan, massive sums of money are poised to pour into Sudan from all over the world as soon as peace in Sudan is agreed.

Russia has arms contracts with Sudan. Sudan's ports are being developed. Roads are to be built. There's even talk of oil pipes leading to Libya. Why do the western media not report more in-depth reports?

The details are too long to go into here (I may try and write another post with links that back up what I am saying here) but the Darfur rebels, who must be supported by outside forces, started the rebellion in Darfur with the aim of over throwing or weakening the present regime in Khartoum. No other explanation makes sense. They have dragged out the Darfur peace talks, biding their time and imploring the West to impose sanctions, which are not in Sudan's best interest.

During Sudan's past conflicts, the rebels in the south-north war were backed and supported by outsider influences from within the international community (notably the US) why should the Darfur conflict be any different? Not long ago, I posted a report that described how US consultants were educating and training the rebels now in power in Southern Sudan how to set up and run political their party.

In the year following March 2003, Khartoum reacted heavily in an attempt to quell the armed rebellion in time for the peace accords to be signed. As soon as the deal is signed, Sudan stands to gain a great deal of development funding. Khartoum are holding on to Darfur at any cost for fear of losing control over oil revenues, pipeline developments, and power. Arab tribal leaders each lord it over certain areas of Sudan and don't take orders from or listen to Khartoum because they have no need. They rule their own patch through intimidation and benevolance, and Khartoum lets them get on with it.

The militias that are pro government rallied to quell the rebellion and were supported by Khartoum. Other bandits and outlaws got involved because that is how they make their living, from opportunism, banditry and looting.

So many civilians became victims of the war because the rebels were heavily integrated into the villages of Darfur. It became such a terrible and bloody war because the perpetrators of the atrocities had never heard of human rights or racism. Many it would seem held grudges and past grievances and wanted to drive the rebellion out so they could take over their land.

Hardly anything has ever changed in Sudan. The culture is alien compared to ours in the West. But even in the West has witnessed shocking atrocities, racism and human rights abuses, ie Nazis, Klu Klux Klan, native North American Indians and Aborigines in Australia, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo - to name a few.

What is going on in Sudan is hugely complex with a long history. What has bothered me about Darfur, all along is: why the armed rebellion started when it did - so close to the peace accords being finalised. Who is funding, supporting and advising the Darfur rebels, where are their bases in Europe and Eritrea, who are they, how do they live and afford to jet to Paris, Germany, London, USA, Africa, etc.

Where do the Darfur rebels get their confidence? Why is the international community not applying pressure or levelling accusations of genocide at them when they keep walking out of the Darfur peace talks, and refuse to sign humanitarian agreements? Seems all sides are guilty of using innocent civilians as pawns.

The terrible war in Darfur could have been resolved a long time ago by the UN forcing the warring parties to stay at the negotiating table until an agreement was reached.

OK, any government will fight rebellions and refuse to give in to demands - but when it seems impossible for Khartoum to quell the rebellion, why was Khartoum not forced by the UN to declare a state of emergency?

Khartoum are guilty of holding on to power at all costs. Rebels are guilty of pursuing power at all costs. Both are responsible for the bloodbath and death of so many. There are so many gangs and tribes and different groups from within Sudan (and out) not to mention the Ugandan rebels responsible for horrific atrocities (how are they funded?) Fighting is a way of life for these people, it is all they know and is how they make their living.

When Kofi Annan and Colin Powell visited Khartoum 3 months ago, my understanding was that Colin Powell gave Khartoum an ultimatum of 90 days to provide umimpeded access for humanitarian assistance, and if it did not happen, Khartoum would be forced to accept the international community's offer of help. This Khartoum agreed to but on one condition: that the word genocide was dropped. My guess is that Colin Powell agreed to this, which explains why all press releases up until recently, stuck to using any word except genocide. Khartoum does not know whether to trust the US or not, which is why it ran around asking countries like Libya and Turkey to mediate. Surely Khartoum must suspect the US of being behind the Darfur rebels? Maybe the threat of a genocide enquiry forces Khartoum to have to deal with the US whether it likes it or not.

In the past weeks, as the 90 days neared towards October 1st, Colin Powell began using the word genocide as a stick - along with the promise of millions of US dollars as the carrot.

Louise Arbour's recent trip to Khartoum could have been to address the question as to what would happen to the regime in Khartoum if genocide was pursued in the international court. My feelings over the past few months have been that the only solution was to give assurances to Khartoum that they would not face prosecution and that it was better if they co-operated and worked at becoming a regime that everybody could do business with. Khartoum has two things going for it: oil and counter terrorism intelligence.

The reason for publishing the below report, along with a few others, is to see how it fits in with my theories. I can find no other credible reason why the Darfur peace talks have taken so long to conclude or why the rebels have the confidence to keep walking out of peace talks - and why the UN and international community is not coming down on the rebels as hard as they are on the regime in Khartoum.

It seems fishy to me that there is so little news about the rebels or the oil companies operating in Sudan, what is said in the Darfur peace talks, why pressure is not being levelled at the rebels to lay down arms and why it is OK for the rebels to hold up humanitarian agreements being signed. Three or four months ago, when the rebels were holed up in Darfur - they were actually stopping aid from getting in - the UN even ended up in negotiations with them. But the rebels were not criticised for causing suffering. And who are all these people, who can tell who is who - for all I know the rebels could pose as so-called Janjaweed or be wearing Sudanese army uniforms. Where are all the bodies - and where are the photographs. Yes there have been pictures of the refugees and scorched villages but no evidence of who actually carried out the atrocities.

Many of the civilians, as far as I can gather, are nomads that move from area to area depending on the weather. After the floods, greenery shoots up out of land that was parched. The rebels have satellite phones, trucks, petrol, arms -- who supplies all this stuff, where do they get their food and funds over the past 19 months? No report has ever explained these details. I shall now concentrate on unearthing even the most outlandish of reports to see if a picture emerges on who is all involved and where the support is coming from -- and, what are the motives of the ones providing support.
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September 17, 2004, report from the Socialist Worker, copied here in full, along with links to further reading.

LAST WEEK, the Bush administration was forced to admit that a genocide is taking place in western Sudan--carried out by a regime that the U.S. had hoped to bring into its camp. Stories of the horror committed against the African farming villages in Sudan’s Darfur region finally emerged in the U.S. media, but the U.S. government’s interest is anything but compassionate.

The finding of genocide is calculated to pressure the United Nations (UN) Security Council to threaten sanctions and force a UN inquiry that could lead to charges of war crimes. Council member China may block these actions, but plans, backed by the U.S., to enlarge an armed African Union force in Sudan will go forward.

DAVID WHITEHOUSE looks at the background to the crisis--and the cynical role played by the U.S.

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NINETEEN MONTHS of scorched-earth assaults--conducted by mounted Arab militias in concert with government planes and helicopters--have forced most of the African population in Sudan’s western Darfur region to flee. According to UN estimates, 50,000 people have been killed, and 1.4 million people have fled their homes--and now live in poorly supplied refugee camps.

At least 3,000 more fled new assaults in the past two weeks. But reports indicate that attacks have slowed down--because the objective of destroying most of the area’s African villages is already accomplished.

To discourage resettlement, the militias--known as "janjaweed"--have poisoned many of the arid region’s wells with animal carcasses and human corpses. Some of the janjaweed now haunt the fringes of the refugee camps and kill--or rape--those who stray outside. Others have been integrated into the Sudanese army or the "police" forces that patrol the camps.

U.S. officials have predicted that as many as 1 million more could die by the end of the year from hunger and disease if foreign assistance does not increase. The UN’s World Food Program reports that donors have so far provided less than half of the $194 million necessary for relief operations in 2004.

Although donors may boost their support for air drops of food to the camps--many of which are now isolated by seasonal rains--direct Western intervention is unlikely. One reason is that the Sudan government has warmed to the idea of an increased presence of African Union (AU) troops in Darfur--something that is favored by both European and U.S. officials.

Darfur, a region the size of Texas, currently has a token force of 300 AU soldiers, but a UN-AU plan calls for 3,000 more by the end of the year, plus 1,200 AU police. The janjaweed were estimated to number 20,000 in July.

The Sudan government launched its campaign of ethnic cleansing in early 2003 in response to a local insurgency by the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The rebels, mostly Islamic farmers who identify themselves as African, demanded an end to government neglect of the region, President Umar al-Bashir’s campaign to "Arabize" local administration and his backing of the earliest janjaweed raids.

The janjaweed are drawn from nomadic livestock herders--also Muslims--who consider themselves Arabs. Conflicts between farmers and herders over land and water have sharpened since the late 1960s when prolonged drought caused the Sahara Desert to expand.

The government exploited these conflicts and subcontracted to the janjaweed the work of combating the insurgency--allowing them in return to keep what they can loot. The central government perfected this method--of swallowing up an anti-government insurgency with a local ethnic slaughter--in two decades of war in the country’s south against the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Under pressure from the U.S., the SPLA and Bashir reached an agreement in May to share power and the south’s oil wealth. Washington hoped the arrangement in the south would show that Bush’s "war on terror" had brought peace--and would allow U.S. oil companies back into Sudan. But the Darfur crisis has forced Bush to distance himself again from the Bashir regime.

So the U.S. is looking for ways to convert the indigenous rebel groups into proxies of the West. There’s already a connection. From its inception last year, the SLA has received support from Chad, a U.S. client. This assistance is part of a decades-old practice of the region’s governments to back insurgencies of ethnic or political allies against neighboring states.

And there’s another connection. The SLA’s strikes against government outposts in 2003 are widely seen to have been inspired by the headway made by the rebels of southern Sudan, the SPLA, thanks to U.S. backing. This open support followed quiet, privatized support from U.S. Christian evangelicals who backed the Christian and animist fighters of the SPLA against the Islamists of the central government.

As Darfur’s Africans teeter on the brink of catastrophe, the SLA and JEM have taken a hard line in negotiations with the government--clearly emboldened by the idea that the U.S. stands behind them. But the more deeply the U.S. gets involved, the more the rebels will become pawns in the U.S. game for regional influence.

And to some extent, the SLA and JEM may already be sucked up into the ethnic war. Although they took up arms to press real grievances, reports from Al Jazeera and The Economist in August alleged that the rebels themselves began to engage in ethnic cleansing.

Even military intervention by the African Union is not neutral. Its most prominent backer is the regime of Nigerian military strongman Olusegun Obasanjo, who wants to curry favor with the U.S. and elevate Nigeria as a reliable "sub-imperial" power. Any sizable intervention would depend on the U.S. for equipment and arms, so the AU’s efforts will represent an indirect form of Western intervention--the path that Bush may prefer as the U.S. seeks to develop African proxies for future use.

While U.S. troops--and credibility--are tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush may settle for a long-term siege of Sudan, through UN pressure and AU troops. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke last week of divisions within the Bashir regime between hardliners and moderates--the administration’s way of saying that they hope for a coup by elements friendly to the U.S.

U.S. puts oil profits first

U.S. RELATIONS with Sudan have shifted sharply more than once in the past 20 years, but not out of concern for the welfare of ordinary Sudanese. Whichever party held the White House, the key question was always how the U.S. could gain advantage over its geopolitical rivals--especially in exploiting the region’s oil wealth.


U.S. oil giant Chevron discovered major oil deposits in southern Sudan in 1979-80. Within three years, the Sudanese government unleashed a genocidal war against Christians and animists in the south--clearing villagers out of the oilfields so that Western oil companies could set up shop in "uninhabited" territories.

The U.S. maintained close relations with the government through this period, even as Sudan’s army and its local Islamic proxy militias began enslaving thousands of southern women and children. At the same time, Sudan further cemented its connection to the U.S. by backing Eritrea’s struggle for independence from Ethiopia--a cause that the U.S. suddenly embraced when Ethiopia aligned itself with Washington’s Cold War rival, the former USSR, in the late 1970s.

Under Jimmy Carter, Sudan became the sixth biggest recipient of U.S. military aid by 1980. But as the Cold War came to an end a decade later--and the Sudanese civil war disrupted Western access to the oilfields--the U.S. began to lose interest.

In 1991, George Bush Sr. made a full reversal of support when Sudan opposed his war against Iraq. He withdrew U.S. food aid to Sudan in the middle of a famine.

Under Bill Clinton, two developments drove the U.S. toward an even sharper confrontation with Sudan. One was a campaign of Christian fundamentalists--including in George W. Bush’s hometown of Midlands, Texas--to pressure Clinton to support the southern rebels. The other was Sudan’s harboring of forces hostile to the U.S., including Osama bin Laden, who lived in the country from 1991 to 1996.

Following the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton "retaliated" with a cruise missile attack on targets supposedly associated with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. The assault destroyed Sudan’s al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, which produced half of Sudan’s medicines and all of its chloroquine, a malaria medicine.

Clinton claimed--falsely, as the administration admitted a year later--that the factory was producing chemical weapons for al-Qaeda. But in 2000, Clinton’s last year as president, President Bashir began to cooperate in rooting out the most militant anti-American Islamist groups in the country--setting the stage for Bush Jr. to attempt a re-reversal of policy.

George W. Bush sought "constructive engagement" with Bashir, especially because trade sanctions that date from the Clinton years have cut U.S. companies out of the reviving oil business. Sudan’s reserves could produce oil at half the rate of Kuwait if fully developed.

While the U.S. was disengaged, Malaysia, India and China--the U.S.’s looming new geopolitical rival--made oil connections to Sudan. China has even become Sudan’s top foreign investor and controls the oil concession in southern Darfur.

Bush pressured the Christian-animist rebels in the south to negotiate with the government. As talks progressed toward the May power-sharing deal--after 2 million civilian deaths since 1983--Bush hoped that the new war in Darfur would just go away.

To sweeten the deal, Bush promised to take Sudan off the list of "states that sponsor terror"--just when the atrocities in Darfur grabbed the world’s attention. So no one should believe the latest twists and turns in the U.S. relationship with Sudan have anything to do with concern for the Sudanese people.

Further reading:

Sudan peace agreement paves way for increased oil production by Brian Smith dated 16 January 2004.

Aid Groups Foresee Prolonged War by Gunnar Willum and Bjørn Willum US Plan to Feed Sudan Rebels Rapped

Sept 30 AP Wire - Chad Denies Supporting Rebellion in Sudan

Sep 30 Reuters - Sudan says U.S. armed Darfur rebels - Egypt paper

Sep 30 BBC - Who are Sudan's Darfur rebels?

Sep 30 report - Ugandan army captures LRA leader's son

Sep 30 aljazeera.com - Al Bashir: U.S. arms Darfur rebels

Sept 30 Middle East Online - Beshir accuses US of supporting Darfur rebels
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Update on Monday October 4 - copy of report by Peter Beaumont in The Observer October 3, 2004

US 'hyping' Darfur genocide fears

American warnings that Darfur is heading for an apocalyptic humanitarian catastrophe have been widely exaggerated by administration officials, it is alleged by international aid workers in Sudan. Washington's desire for a regime change in Khartoum has biased their reports, it is claimed.

The government's aid agency, USAID, says that between 350,000 and a million people could die in Darfur by the end of the year. Other officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, have accused the Sudanese government of presiding over a 'genocide' that could rival those in Bosnia and Rwanda.

But the account has been comprehensively challenged by eyewitness reports from aid workers and by a new food survey of the region. The nutritional survey of Sudan's Darfur region, by the UN World Food Programme, says that although there are still high levels of malnutrition among under-fives in some areas, the crisis is being brought under control.

'It's not disastrous,' said one of those involved in the WFP survey, 'although it certainly was a disaster earlier this year, and if humanitarian assistance declines, this will have very serious negative consequences.'

The UN report appears to confirm food surveys conducted by other agencies in Darfur which also stand in stark contrast to the dire US descriptions of the food crisis.

The most dramatic came from Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, who told UN officials: 'We estimate right now, if we get relief in we'll lose a third of a million people and, if we don't, the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people.'

A month later, a second senior official, Roger Winter, USAID's assistant administrator, briefed foreign journalists in Washington that an estimated 30,000 people had been killed during the on-going crisis in Darfur, with another 50,000 deaths from malnutrition and disease, largely among the huge populations fleeing the violence. He described the emergency as 'humanitarian disaster of the first magnitude'.

By 9 September Powell was in front of the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee accusing Sudan of 'genocide', a charge rejected by officials of both the European and African Unions and also privately by British officials.

'I've been to a number of camps during my time here,' said one aid worker, 'and if you want to find death, you have to go looking for it. It's easy to find very sick and under-nourished children at the therapeutic feeding centres, but that's the same wherever you go in Africa.'

Another aid worker told The Observer : 'It suited various governments to talk it all up, but they don't seem to have thought about the consequences. I have no idea what Colin Powell's game is, but to call it genocide and then effectively say, "Oh, shucks, but we are not going to do anything about that genocide" undermines the very word "genocide".'

While none of the aid workers and officials interviewed by The Observer denied there was a crisis in Darfur - or that killings, rape and a large-scale displacement of population had taken place - many were puzzled that it had become the focus of such hyperbolic warnings when there were crises of similar magnitude in both northern Uganda and eastern Congo.

Concern about USAID's role as an honest broker in Darfur have been mounting for months, with diplomats as well as aid workers puzzled over its pronouncements and one European diplomat accusing it of 'plucking figures from the air'.

Under the Bush administration, the work of USAID has become increasingly politicised. But over Sudan, in particular, two of its most senior officials have long held strong personal views. Both Natsios, a former vice-president of the Christian charity World Vision, and Winter have long been hostile to the Sudanese government.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sudan/story/0,14658,1318643,00.html

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