Aid flows back to Darfur - 20 WFP trucks bringing food to North and South Darfur - Jim Lobe in Washington says "Sudan: Grim And Getting Grimmer"
Darfur's fledgling peace deal is fragile but it is already saving lives, say residents threatened by starvation who welcome the halt in Sudanese rebel attacks on food aid convoys.- - -
"Thank God, it is quiet now." These same words of relief come out of the parched mouths of nearly all the famished villagers around El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.
Delivering rations to the population had become a perilous task for aid agencies on desert tracks infested with marauding gunmen, who frequently hijacked food convoys and nearly obliged the United Nations (UN) to stop its relief operation.
Khartoum and the largest rebel faction from the Sudan Liberation Movement signed a peace agreement on May 5, raising hopes of an end to the more than three years of conflict that turned Darfur into one of the world's worst unfolding humanitarian tragedies.
Aid trucks crawling on the bumpy roads meandering through the dry hills from El Fasher to Kuma, 80 kilometres to the northeast, were easy targets for armed rebels, who would attack convoys, steal the vital food aid and disappear.
In March, around 20 armed men on camels tried to stop an aid truck, but the driver escaped and went to police in El Fasher.
When they went after the men, clashes ensued around Kerkera, halfway between El Fasher and Kuma, leaving 14 rebels and three police dead, according to the African Union Mission in Sudan (Amis).
Some convoys had started travelling with armed escorts, which would only have led to further bloody clashes.
But calm has returned to the area since the peace deal was signed, despite one SLM faction and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) so far refusing to sign up.
"The situation is calm and no notable incident has happened," since the signing, said Kerkera inhabitant Ishak Yaacub.
People from villages around Kerkera, population 3,000, come to the market to sell their meagre products, mainly dried tomatoes and onions. Others trade in food aid handed out by the World Food Programme (WFP).
African Union soldiers are pleased to see the market functioning normally.
"The attacks against convoys were a big problem," said a Kenyan officer who requested anonymity.
Because of the attacks, the UN threatened to end relief efforts late last month.
"Unless these attacks and harassment stop immediately, the UN and its partners will be obliged to suspend all relief assistance to this particular area," the world body said in a statement.
It said it would hold armed groups and their leaders responsible "for the failure to assist the extremely vulnerable populations under their control."
The UN also said that some aid agencies' vehicles had been stolen "for military purposes". Outside Kerkera, the Kenyan officer points to a four-wheel drive parked in front of a police post.
"It was requisitioned by the rebels and then recovered by government forces," he said.
The SLM however rejected the UN's accusations, blaming the attacks on government forces and their proxy militias.
"Since the signing of the peace deal, the road has become usable without problem once again," said Kuma's mayor, Abdullah Juzu.
On the road outside Kuma, some 20 tarpaulined trucks with the WFP logo emblazoned on their sides are bringing vital food supplies to El Fasher and Nyala, South Darfur's capital.
"The drivers bravely drive hundreds of kilometres, sometimes even coming from Port Sudan, in the far northeast, and they must have security," said the Kenyan officer.
As the latest convoy heads off, the drivers are pleased to see no cloud of dust on the horizon, usually the first warning of an imminent rebel attack.
Jim Lobe says "Sudan: Grim And Getting Grimmer"
In contrast to the above report, an opinion piece by Jim Lobe in Washington - entitled Darfur, security situation still volatile despite peace accord (Inter Press Service/Sudan Tribune, May 26, 2006) - opens by saying:
"Despite a recent peace accord, a new UN Security Council resolution, and agreement by Sudan to permit a UN assessment team to travel to Darfur to determine how to strengthen peacekeeping forces there, the situation in the region, as well as in eastern Chad, has continued to deteriorate, according to sources here."Ahem. Mr Lobe: What sources? Why are they not revealed? Are the rebels the sources? Where is "here"?
Note, the first report above, by sapa-AFP is from Darfur, Sudan and the second gives the impression to readers it is a news report when in fact it is an opinion piece by Jim Lobe, an American.
The same piece by Mr Lobe, reprinted at AllAfrica May 27. 2006, via Inter Press Service Johannesburg (of which he is the Washington Bureau Chief) is featured as an 'analysis' and the title has changed to Sudan: Grim And Getting Grimmer.
Any article that quotes the International Crisis Group and/or it's Sudan expert John Prendergast, I've learned to ignore. They make it their job to get attention, whip up storms and spin the media to get attention. I see it as propaganda. See July 9, 2004 Echo Chamber Project Interview with Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Washington Bureau Chief - excerpt:
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So, when you're covering it you're working outside of those blinders in a way. Do you try to challenge the viewpoints of a lot of the cultural biases?
LOBE: Well, I mean, I'm a product of the culture too, and to that extent my coverage is going to be affected by what my -- you know, what my cultural upbringing says is possible or impossible.