Freedom | 17.08.2004 00:21 | Repression
Inside Afra Shopping Center, which opened four months ago, shoppers slip inside from 110-degree heat and enter air-conditioned splendor. They can browse for footwear at the Payless shoe store, sip an Arabic coffee from Gloria Jean's, or roam the aisles of the cavernous, 27-checkout Hypermarket superstore.
One sign of the hopes for peace is that landlords in some of Khartoum's priciest neighborhoods have begun to double rents in the past year, believing that an influx of foreigners will pay top rates for the limited supply of housing. Foreigners -- namely, aid workers -- are arriving in droves, not to settle in Khartoum but to set up base in Darfur."
(From an article by John Donnelly,
NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE Jun 06, 2004)
Over the last 20 years civil wars in Sudan have led to the deaths of up to 2 million people. In the next 12 months up to a million more could die because of the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The current violence in Darfur began to flare up towards the end of 2002. As peace in the south of the country between the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) and the Government became a possibility, war in other parts of Sudan escalated. Fighting between Government forces and the NDF (National Democratic Front) intensified in the East of Sudan near the Eritrean border. This seemed highly convenient for elements of the regime.
However, perhaps because of the lack of military capabilities of the NDF, fighting in the East remained low key. Tension remains high though. The Sudanese accuse the Eritrean Government of aiding the NDF (to the extent of lending them tanks and heavy artillery); in return the Eritrean government alleges that the Sudanese regime is behind a series of recent bomb attacks in Western Eritrea.
The current Sudanese Government came to power in a military coup in 1989. Being forced to the negotiating table by the SPLA after losing briefly losing the garrison town of Torit in the autumn of 2002 was a serious loss of face for the military. The government was also under pressure from increasing dissent in the government controlled North of the country. During late 2002 students at several Sudanese colleges rioted. There were disturbances when the state controlled bread prices rose and I even witnessed clashes in the Souk in downtown Khartoum between very jumpy paramilitary riot police and people shopping in the market.
Outside the capital opposition was also making itself heard. The University at Shendi in the North of the country had been surrounded and carved up with razor wire fences in a bid to prevent further disturbances. In the town of Wad Medani school pupils took to the streets to demand peace in the South, whilst people talked jokingly about joining the South if the SPLA won independence.
The resistance continues. In June this year three people were killed, including two students, and 12 others wounded, when police fired at student demonstrators who earlier torched government offices in Babanousa, in central Sudan's West Kordofan state.
Towards the end of 2002 I began to hear rumors from people that "American sailors" (i.e. Marines or Special Forces) had been seen in hills of Darfur. Around the same time there were reports of what the Sudanese media described as "tribal violence" coupled with mass executions of "bandits". 18 months later we have what has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis in world today.
The "Janjaweed" militia has received much publicity in the West recently, yet collaboration between the Sudanese military and the militias has been commonplace in Sudan's wars. The Sudanese Army's rail supply route to garrisons in the South has become known as the "Slave Train" because of the activities of the militia that are employed to guard it. These militia (in return for escorting the train through SPLA controlled territory to Government enclaves) are permitted to rape, loot and pillage villages en route, taking slaves to sell in slave markets in the North.
Away from Darfur in the Shilluk region, supposedly covered by the ceasefire with the SPLA, militia attacks have currently displaced around 75 000 people.
These connections extend to the oil companies working in Sudan. A Christian Aid report ( http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/0103suda/sudanoil.htm) details how companies such as the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Sweden's Lundin Oil and Austria's OMV employ local militias and Sudanese military forces to both protect their installations and also to clear the surrounding land. A practice condemned as a "scorched earth" policy. More recently I heard accounts that the CNPC were using prisoners brought from China to clear and destroy villages. In return, these prisoners were promised their freedom upon return to China.
The oil companies have also been allowing the Sudanese military to use their infrastructure in their "jihad" in the South. Airstrips, roads and trucks belonging to the oil companies were used to launch attacks against villages in the South.
Although no British companies are directly involved in oil extraction in Sudan, they are heavily implicated in Sudan's oil industry. The Christian Aid report names Rolls Royce and Weir Pumps of Glasgow as providing essential services to the industry.
Regarding Weir the report states: "Weir's contract to provide the pumping stations for the first pipeline to the Red Sea is worth £20 million. It is currently building stations with which Khartoum hopes to boost its production from 185,000-200,000 barrels per day to 400,000 - doubling at a stroke the revenue available from oil".
Rolls Royce meanwhile has been providing engines, maintenance and support to the Sudanese Oil industry.
BP also has its greedy fingers in the oil pie, with millions of dollars invested in the CNPC and a heavy presence amongst the British diplomatic and expat scene (to the extent that the British Embassy's drinking club is sponsored by the oil company).
Without the oil industry the Sudanese government would never have been financially able to prolong its war in the South. Indeed, there would not been as much incentive to attack and destroy villages in the oil fields.
However, it is neither easy nor cheap to develop oil fields in the midst of a war zone. The SPLA has repeatedly attacked the oil industry and declared it a "legitimate target". The U.S., who are eager to grab a share of the action, has heavily pushed the current peace deal.
Yet, Sudan and its undeniably oppressive fundamentalist regime remains part of their "axis of evil", the American Embassy has been an uninhabited fortress decorated by a "wanted" poster of Bin Laden. Indeed the Sudanese people remain in fear of further American bombings such as the one that that destroyed an aspirin factory (there are, however, arms factories in Sudan - such as the one developed by the Chinese at Giad, and disguised as a car factory, which is an open secret in Sudan.
The conflict in Darfur is both far away from the oilfields and a stick to beat the Sudanese dictatorship with. A million people could die for this convenience.
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