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Chad and Sudan Indulge in a Vicarious War Through Rebels

Simon Piel for Le Nouvel Observateur: What are the roots of the conflict striking Darfur?

Sara Daniel: Darfur is a region of western Sudan as big as France that counts six million inhabitants. According to the UN, among those inhabitants have been 200,000 killed and 2.5 million people displaced in the last four years. The situation is still not improving, despite the peace agreement signed May 5, 2006, in Abuja. The Khartoum government is the main party responsible for the situation. By arming the Janjaweed militias, who, moreover, are escorted by the Sudanese army, the government is responsible for the massacres. Everything began when the Darfur populations understood that they would be kept away from the country's wealth. So then a justice movement sprang up - captured the North Darfur capital's Al-Facher airport - and a terrible repression orchestrated by Khartoum followed. Some highlight the racial and ethnic nature of the conflict, but that's not the main reason for it. The heart of it is repression of a rebellion. And the government is accustomed to that kind of thing: the country is emerging from a conflict between the government and John Garang's rebels in the south that killed close to two million people.

Piel: You just spent three weeks in Chad and Darfur; what is the situation over there?

Daniel: I left for Chad, and, from there, I was able to go to Darfur several times. My objective was to meet the Darfur refugees who have gone to Chad to benefit from (Chadian president) Idriss Deby's protection. But now the conflict has spread to Chad. First of all, Chadian refugees joined the refugee camps, and then, the border between the two countries hardly acts as an effective brake on the Janjaweed's deadly expeditions at all. The latter even bombard the border regions. Chad and Sudan are, in fact, indulging in a vicarious war through their rebels. In the Chadian camps, the security situation is wearing thin. The camps are very vulnerable. The Chadian army, supposed to protect the refugees, also conducts a protection racket. Rape is commonplace. In some camps, the security conditions have gone to the UN's Level 4. Consequently, some NGOs have begun to withdraw. In Bahai in the north, I saw fewer than 10 NGO staff for 26,000 refugees. The situation is disastrous.

Piel: What is the international community's attitude?

Daniel: China, which exports 65 percent of Sudanese oil, blocks everything. At this time, there are oodles of Chinese engineers taking up residence in Khartoum. As soon as the Security Council wants to vote a resolution, China opposes it. There is pressure being brought to bear on the Chinese government, but it has had little impact. The United States is in a contradictory situation. It was the first to talk about "genocide." But, since September 11th, 2001, it's made Sudan one of its partners in the war against terrorism. Finally, France - which supports Deby in Chad - still thinks that Omar-El-Bachir (Sudanese president since 1993) must not be ostracized so as not to make him a victim and activate a new region of instability. The international community gets very indignant, but it is tangled up in its own contradictions and the situation does not budge.

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.

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