Tuesday, April 26, 2005

South Sudan militia threatens not to disband

Going by various reports over the past year, and a recent statement by US Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Zoellick, it seems the regime in Khartoum might not have complete control over Sudan's militias.

Arab tribal leaders in the Sudan are a law unto themselves. They lord it over vast regions and rule by fear and benevolence. UN envoy Jan Pronk recently suggested that talks, involving all sides, include the tribal leaders. Libyan leader Col Gadhaffi has also been helping to mediate and broker peace.

It stands to reason Khartoum must fear retribution if Sudan's militias are forcibly disarmed or turned over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). One can imagine they fear foreign troops - and think twice about turning up at meetings where leaders might be hauled away for questioning by the ICC.

Some news reports say the ICC is mobile and could set up court within Sudan to call upon witnesses. The ICC may only be interested in certain individuals, not all 51 suspects listed by UN commission. A few news reports have said if Sudan proves it is capable of bringing the suspected war criminals to a court in the Sudan, there would be no need for the ICC to handle the case. But the reports never explain how the suspected war criminals are to be brought to court. Maybe it's a job for the African Union.

Here is another problem that news reporters have not made much of. January's north-south peace deal, which foreign donors this month pledged billions of dollars to support, did not address the problem of militias or the ethnic divisions within the south, says an AFP report at the Sudan Tribune April 25, 2005.

None of the government-backed militias turned up at last week's south-south dialogue conference in Kenya [details in April 25 post here below]. According to the above AFP report, SPLM says Khartoum ordered the boycott.

Also, Major General Paulino Matip, leader of a government-backed group of militias in South Sudan, said his South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) would not disarm unless it is included in the security arrangements of the peace deal between Khartoum and the SPLM, reports said Monday.

"The SPLM is not the only power in the south," Matip was quoted as saying by the English-language daily Khartoum Monitor.

The SSDF fought alongside the government against the SPLM during the last years of the more than two-decade-long civil war.

UPDATE April 26:

Note, SSUDA/SSDF Press Release April 22, 2005 on south-south dialogue, states: 'This move is a declaration of war on SSDF, the south Sudan United alliance (SSUDA) and its military wing the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF) will not honor it.'

See also, South Sudan Democratic Forum-Canada Press Release April 22, 2005 titled 'The People of the South Will Die Again'.

[via GIF with thanks]
- - -

Some southern Sudan leaders fear Garang's monopoly

A number of southern politicians have expressed their opposition to John Garang's monopoly of power in the south and their discontent with the outcome of the talks, particularly since most of the armed militias in the south are allied to the Khartoum government and were absent from last week's south-south dialogue conference in Kenya.

Full Story via Sudan Tribune, April 26, 2005.
- - -

Sudanese opposition parties differ over formation of new alliance

At a recent meeting in Eritrea, a sharp dispute broke out between the armed opposition factions of the Beja and Free Lions, JEM, and the SLM on one hand and the leader of the Ummah Party reformist wing, Mubarak al-Fadl al-Mahdi on the other hand.

According to the independent Al-Khartoum daily newspaper, the reason for the dispute was the call by Mubarak on the armed factions to form an alternative wide-based opposition front to replace the National Democratic Alliance, (NDA).

Full Story via Sudan Tribune, April 24, 2005.
- - -

Sudan allows freer aid access

26 Apr 2005: Reuters by Opheera McDoom. Sudan on Tuesday announced new procedures to simplify aid access to the country. Excerpt:

It would immediately begin registration of all aid agencies working in Sudan. Goods they bring into the country will be exempted from customs and taxes. Permission would no longer be needed to travel to areas where there are no security concerns. The UN have a separate agreement with the government about its operations in the country.

Special procedures to deal with the Darfur humanitarian crisis, would continue for another three months at least. Aid workers travelling to Darfur are guaranteed visas within 48 hours. That and other procedures to facilitate aid to Darfur, were put in place after an agreement in May last year with the UN.
- - -

Sudan says mortality rates in Darfur camps had fallen

Health Minister Ahmed Ballal Osman said that mortality rates in the camps in Darfur had fallen below the emergency threshold to less than one per 10,000. "This is now considered a normal threshold for mortality," he said.

The World Health Organisation is undertaking a second mortality survey in conjunction with aid agencies and the ministry of health in the Darfur camps. A previous survey in August last year found about 10,000 were dying each month in the camps.

Conditions have since improved for those in the camps, although outside the camps many affected by the conflict are still without aid.
- - -

UNCHR says about 20,000 out of 2 million had returned to Darfur

Of the 200,000 refugees who fled the fighting across the border into Chad, UNHCR said on Tuesday that 20,000 people had returned to Darfur.

But it said it was concerned by the recent burning of abandoned villages, a clear warning to those returnees not to try to go back to their homes.

Charred village sends message of terror to displaced Darfurians

Photo: UNCHR report : what remains of Seraf, an abandoned village in West Darfur that was burnt to the ground last week. Ceramic pots once used to store grain lay blackened and broken. (UNHCR/K.McKinsey)

Charred village sends message of terror to displaced Darfurians

Here is a copy of a UNCHR report from Seraf, Sudan, April 26, 2005:

The acrid smell of fresh embers hung in the air and clouds of flies swarmed through the sweltering afternoon air as Ibrahim Adam poked silently through the remains of what had been his grain storage hut. Finally he held aloft a 30-cm steel stake formerly used for tethering his donkey - the blackened piece of metal is all that remains of the life he once led in this Darfur village.

Ibrahim, once a prosperous tailor, led a UNHCR team last week to the freshly torched village of Seraf, an already abandoned village he said was burned to the ground four days earlier by men he calls Arabs or Janjaweed militias.

"They are telling us not to come back to our original village," he said in a voice devoid of emotion. "They want to push us to go to Chad, out of the country. They want to stay here instead of us."

"It's very symbolic," agreed a UNHCR staff member who went to Seraf with Ibrahim. "It's not pragmatic because the village was already empty of people. The message is: 'Don't think life is going to go back to normal.' It is a dramatic way of making the point they (the original inhabitants) are not welcome here."

Last year, during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month from October to November, some 55 abandoned villages were burned around Masteri, an agglomeration of nearly 100 villages 50 km south of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur state. In recent days, the UN refugee agency has received reports that the burning of abandoned villages has resumed.

This development comes as some brave displaced people - about 20,000 out of two million - have taken the chance of going back to resume life in the villages they fled during the conflict that broke out in the Darfur region of western Sudan in February 2003.

This recent spate of arson "is a continuing message - 'Don't even try to come back to your villages to pick up your possessions, collect grass or take up farming again'," said the UNHCR staffer.

Full Story via UNCHR April 26, 2005.
- - -

UNHCR on abandoned villages burned in Darfur, Sudan

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 26 April 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva:

UNHCR is alarmed by the fact that abandoned villages in West Darfur are once again being burned to discourage the people who once lived there from returning home. At the end of last week, a resident of Seraf Village (12 kms south of Masteri, which itself is 50 kms south of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur) took our staff inspect the village, which he said had been burned the previous Monday (April 18).

This man told us the 200 families of Seraf had fled attacks by Janjaweed militias a year ago. Then on Monday last week, they saw smoke and feared their village was being burned. All that remains now are broken grain storage jars and blackened mud-brick shells of houses, the thatching having turned to ashes.

This gratuitous act is clearly a message to the former residents not to return home. We are concerned because acts like this - on top of the displacement of some 2 million people from their homes - threaten to change the social and demographic structure of Darfur irrevocably.

Actions like these also demonstrate the value of UNHCR's mobile protection teams, which have conducted more than 100 missions within West Darfur to find and arrange protection for the most vulnerable people, especially women who have been raped.

Last year, during Ramadan from October to November, some 55 abandoned villages were burned around Masteri, an agglomeration of nearly 100 villages. Now the burning of villages seems to have resumed.

This development comes as some 20,000 people have already taken the brave step of going back to their villages in Darfur from their refuge in Chad and from larger towns and villages within Darfur. We are working to improve life for those who do choose to go home to selected areas, although we do not want to send the signal that it is now safe for all Darfuris to return home.

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) via ReliefWeb
Date: 26 Apr 2005.

No comments: