In-depth: 'Sudan: A future without War?'- IRIN In-Depth on the prospects of peace in Sudan
SUDAN: Humanitarian needs continue despite Darfur accord
NYALA, SOUTHERN DARFUR, 15 April 2004 (IRIN) - Sudan watchers have welcomed the renewable 45-day ceasefire deal signed between Darfur's two rebel groups and the Sudanese government on 8 April, but the situation on the ground has prevented some observers from being overly optimistic.
Under the deal, the parties agreed to meet within two weeks to "negotiate a definitive settlement of the conflict", to guarantee humanitarian access to the region and to "facilitate the return of the refugees and displaced" to their homes on a voluntary basis.
Both parties agreed to "ensure that all armed groups under their control" complied with the agreement, while the government stated that it "shall commit itself to neutralise the armed militias" in the region.
However, observers are urging caution, not least because the details of how and when the armed militias known as the Janjawid are to be "neutralised" have yet to be outlined.
The Janjawid who have been held responsible for mass displacements and what Human Rights Watch (HRW) has referred to in a report issued on 2 April as "crimes against humanity", are neither signatories to the agreement nor specifically referred to in the text.
Indeed local and national authorities in Sudan do not generally acknowledge the Janjawid and their actions, referring instead to isolated incidents of "banditry" over which, they say, they have no control.
Sulaf al-Din Salih, the commissioner-general of Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission, told IRIN in an interview in Khartoum on 2 April that the international community had been misinformed about the reality in Darfur.
"It is not only the Janjawid. People forget about the other groups called Tora Bora and others as well. Definitely the government did not have enough forces to control all the area. So these groups have committed atrocities and have gone beyond the normal security or military operations...[but] we have succeeded in controlling all these groups to a very great extent," he said.
Meanwhile, the militiamen remain at large. Just a day after the ceasefire came into effect on 12 April, a Janjawid attack was reported outside Kalma camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in southern Darfur.
Ceasefire or no ceasefire, the humanitarian situation in Southern Darfur State is now worse than it has ever been, with 140,000 IDPs and the whole of the state affected, except for the extreme east and south.
During the first week of April alone, almost 20,000 IDPs arrived in towns from rural areas, while in Kas, in the northwestern corner of the state, the number of IDPs rose from 20,000 to 35,000, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported this week.
The current trend is expected to continue as large bands of Janjawid descend on the south from Northern and Western Darfur states, moving towards the Nyala and Sharaya areas, according to UN officials familiar with the situation.
Reasons for the deteriorating security remain unclear, but may be related to the traditional migration of Arab nomadic pastoralists migrating southwards from the north between November and April in search of water and pasture.
Neither the UN nor other agencies have managed to map in any detail the areas depopulated as a result of militia activity, but according to humanitarian sources in the area, a clear trend is emerging of non-Arabs being hounded out of rural areas into urban centres. The Fur and Masalit are the main targets in southern Darfur, while small numbers of Dinka from southern Sudan are also affected.
Many of the attacks take on a similar pattern, eyewitnesses told IRIN. Hundreds - some say thousands - of Janjawid riding horses and camels arrive in an area from different directions before engaging in a major offensive. Rich from looting thousands of head of cattle, and carrying modern communications equipment, they easily coordinate their attacks.
Before and after burning the non-Arab villages (or sections of such villages) collectively accused of harbouring rebels, they often loiter, armed with automatic rifles, around water sources. Here they can intimidate and rape local women, loot their animals, and destroy key infrastructure, humanitarian workers and eyewitnesses told IRIN.
"The destruction of water sources, burning of crops and theft of livestock are a key element in the government's campaign. For obvious reasons, cutting off all sources of food and water to civilians in their homes will inevitably lead to their displacement - or starvation," HRW said in its report.
The Janjawid have sometimes been accompanied by the Sudanese army or have travelled in army vehicles; often they wear army uniforms, according to eyewitnesses. "Whenever these people [the Janjawid] come and attack villages, you expect that once people have resisted the army will come. That's the scenario recently," an MP from Darfur told IRIN.
"They [the militias and army] tie them [up], they torture them, trying to get information about the rebellion. Sometimes you can be killed if you are suspected, or if you try to resist, you can be tied, you can have your hand broken or legs, you can be whipped - all kinds of torture, beatings and shootings," he added. "They don't allow anyone who is a boy, anyone from 13 to 20, [to go free], they [the Janjawid] kill them straight away when they find them."
The inhabitants of the villages have no choice but to flee. Even then, thousands are subjected to further attacks on the road, with more looting and violence at Janjawid "checkpoints", the IDPs said.
INCREASED VIOLENCE AND RAPE
Sitting in a tiny, makeshift straw hut in Kalma camp just outside Nyala town, 27-year-old Ajoiya, a member of the Fur community, recalled how she and her baby took refuge in a mosque in Kaileik, about 50 km southwest of Kas. "They [the Janjawid] came at night, they pulled back the bedclothes to see if the women had babies. If there was no baby, they would take them away to rape them," she told IRIN.
Up to 30 women in Kaileik had been taken by groups of armed Janjawid and raped each day before they fled to Kalma camp in Nyala, she said. "About 20 of my relatives were taken away. We were crying out for rescue, but no one came," she said.
Civilians from 21 villages in the Shetaya and Kaileik areas, in rural Kas, had descended on Kaileik village in early March after being attacked by the Janjawid and the military.
Ajoiya's two sisters-in-law, one of their babies and her brother were shot dead as they fled their attackers, she told IRIN. "I lost everything I had: goats, 30 kg of groundnuts, blankets and donkeys."
Over a two-week period, 200 men from the villages also "disappeared", she said.
"They [the Janjawid] would gather the people every day, men on one side, women on the other. Men were selected randomly, some of them were beaten, some were killed. They used to take them away to kill them," one man, who spoke anonymously, told IRIN.
"We are civilians, we don't know why we are being attacked," said another.
OBSTACLES TO AID
Local authorities in Nyala are quick to draw attention to the humanitarian needs of the IDPs. They urgently needed proper shelter before the rains began in June, medical assistance and in some cases food, they told IRIN.
But the provision of aid to the victims of the Darfur conflict is fraught with difficulty, according to humanitarian workers.
"The humanitarian community has very little overall understanding of the situation, which makes it very difficult to plan for and respond to the crisis," the UN reported at the end of March.
While a number of agencies are awaiting permission to open offices in Southern Darfur, there were no international NGOs operating on the crisis in the south, humanitarian sources told IRIN in Nyala last week.
Compounding the absence of agencies was a late and inadequate response to the crisis, a lack of knowledge about the victims' real needs and the unwillingness of local commercial truckers to transport aid to many areas for security reasons, a regional analyst told IRIN.
A further dilemma is centred on the role that humanitarian aid agencies should play in the current conflict. While they are mandated to provide assistance to the needy, some aid workers are wondering whether by doing so they are perpetuating the problem of displacement.
"There is a lack of overall policy on the approach [to aid]. The reasons for the creation of the crisis should be reflected in the response. There is no reflection on how to address this crisis," said one regional analyst.
Responses so far had been oriented towards the delivery of "goods" in areas to which the IDPs had fled, whereas they should have been focusing on lobbying the Sudanese government to provide protection, he said. "In Southern Darfur there has been no local [government] response to the security situation at all. The Janjawid have been written a blank cheque," he asserted.
On the other hand, the needs are such that without some immediate assistance many more thousands will die, some humanitarian workers fear.
"IDPs should not pay the price for a conceptual dilemma about humanitarian assistance. We should act," Alexandre Liebeskind, an official from the International Committee of the Red Cross told IRIN. "You have the survival line. We want to give them [the IDPs] the dignity line, where you have enough space to live with your family, you can wash, you have certain structures to protect your family, you have basic medical services and you don't have to live on the move," he added.
Efforts to help vulnerable populations in Darfur had been thwarted for months, according to HRW, which reported that "between October 2003 and January 2004, the Sudanese government almost entirely obstructed international assistance to displaced civilians in Darfur - and provided virtually no aid from its own coffers".
International aid workers often still have to wait weeks before being granted visas to enter Sudan, and some areas have been inaccessible for weeks or even months.
At the local level, government humanitarian aid commissioners (HACs) in each state are officially responsible for the IDPs' welfare, but they often lack both resources and power.
The HAC in Nyala, Jamal Yusuf Idris, told IRIN that the authorities were responsible for providing food, health care, some shelter and security in the camps "if they get the money".
"But the UN has more money than our government", he said. "I will ask the NGOs to provide proper shelter materials in Kurma camp [near Nyala] before I request the government to do so." He added that 500 mt of food had already been delivered to the camps from Khartoum, but said he had no money to assist the IDPs.
Meanwhile, the thousands of displaced in Kalma "camp" - which has no sanitation or proper shelter - say the authorities keep promising aid but not actually delivering anything.
Confined within Kalma, with hundreds of Janjawid camped nearby, they say they cannot even consider returning to their homes. "In order [for us] to go back, there should be no Janjawid. There should be law and order, police organised to provide protection," an elder in the camp told IRIN.
"We have been attacked by people who are armed by the government, wearing official uniforms, with instructions from the government. The ultimate responsibility lies with the government," he stressed.