On Nov. 30, Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir—whom the Hague has indicted for crimes against humanity in Darfur—told peacekeepers in the region he wants them to pack up and leave.
He accused the blue helmets of being “a security burden” on the Sudanese military … because they can’t protect themselves. What’s absurd—but not at all funny—is that Al Bashir’s own troops and agents often pose the greatest threat to the very same peacekeepers.
Al Bashir’s latest outburst comes as peacekeepers have made repeated attempts to investigate reports that Sudanese troops raped 200 women in the village of Tabit. Peacekeepers have reported witness intimidation and constant obstruction of the investigation by Sudanese soldiers.
Al Bashir addressed that in his remarks, too. He blamed “foreign agents” for spreading the reports.
“They want to bring this issue to the fore to cover up improving conditions in Darfur and the development projects being launched there,” Al Bashir said.
He also stated in no uncertain terms that Darfur would never have any sort of autonomy as long as he’s calling the shots.
A penchant for violence
Al Bashir has a long history of violent policies.
Back in the ’90s, he counted as allies Osama Bin Laden of Al Qaeda and Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army, providing them shelter and supplies as they carried out their own twisted holy wars. It was like a war-criminals version of The Expendables.
Al Bashir empowered Bin Laden and Kony to fight against the black Christian rebels in South Sudan. As the southerners gained autonomy in the 2000s, Darfuri rebels in the west launched an uprising of their own, hoping for similar results.
Al Bashir responded by arming ethnic Arab Janjaweed militias in Darfur, promising them payment and development for their communities if they helped quell the rebellion. Rape, looting and the destruction of crops and livestock became normal tactics for the Janjaweed and Sudanese military.
The war has killed more than 400,000 people—and counting.
The Sudanese government always denied backing the Janjaweed’s campaign, but African Union military observers intercepted radio chatter of Sudanese helicopters reporting refugee movements to Janjaweed on the ground.
And U.S. Marine veteran Brian Steidle—on loan to the A.U. through the U.S. State Department—took photos of Sudanese troops burning homes and crops.
The U.N. took over peacekeeping duties after Darfuri rebels launched a deadly night time raid on an A.U. peacekeeping base in Haskanita in September 2007. But the U.N. force has struggled with insufficient manpower and equipment and a lack of aircraft.
Although they can protect civilians from bandits and rogue rebels, the lightly armed U.N. force has never been able to stand up to the most powerful and dangerous faction—the Sudanese government itself.
In fact, UNAMID has frequently refrained from even mentioning Sudanese troops’ involvement in war crimes … for fear of reprisal.
Playing both sides
This year, things have gone from bad to worse all over Sudan. In Darfur, more that 400,000 people have fled their homes since January, adding to the already horrible refugee crisis.
In South Sudan in December 2013, civil war broke out against between ethnic Dinkas loyal to president Silva Kiir and Nuers answering to former vice president Riek Machar. The conflict has continued into 2014, occasionally interrupted by half-hearted ceasefires.
Machar has fought both for and against Al Bashir over the years, more than once turning on his fellow South Sudanese when he doesn’t get his way.
Recently when journalist and adventurer Robert Young Pelton interviewed Machar and his troops, he wrote that they were having shady phone conversations in Arabic and sporting new equipment that any rebel army would have a hard time getting hold of.
Pelton speculated that Machar was once again working with Al Bashir.
In the last few months, the South Sudanese government has accused Al Bashir’s forces of launching a series of air strikes in South Sudan—charges Khartoum denies.
Peacekeepers in the South have also struggled to keep civilians safe, just as their counterparts have done in Darfur. But they’ve had much greater success maintaining refugee camps inside their bases.
The U.N. security council, unconvinced of Machar and Kiir’s ability to keep to ceasefires, voted last month to extend the peacekeepers’ mandate in South Sudan.
But Sudanese belligerence could spell the end of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur. And that would leave Darfur’s most vulnerable people with no protection at all.
Meanwhile, Al Bashir spouts absurdities without anyone questioning him. He slams peacekeepers for being unable to protect themselves, when more often than not his forces are the ones attacking them.
Recently the Sudanese foreign ministry flipped the discussion about the Tabit case, accusing peacekeepers of raping Darfuri women—and claiming that UNAMID commanders have taken no action.
In contrast to the investigation in Tabit, which has focused on a specific location, time and number of victims, the Sudanese counter-accusation was tellingly vague.
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