Bodies Lined Up in the Desert of Darfur
Bodies Lined Up in the Desert of Darfur
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 2 minutes

Bodies Lined Up in the Desert of Darfur

Sudan While Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several members of the U.S. Congress were in government-controlled areas of Darfur a few weeks ago, I crossed into Darfur's rebel-held territory. This is the part of Sudan that the regime doesn't want anyone to see, for good reason.

I saw numbing evidence of the ethnic cleansing campaign pursued by the government of Sudan in this Muslim region, which is populated by Arabs and non-Arabs. In response to a rebellion begun by primarily non-Arab groups in early 2003, the regime armed the Janjaweed militia, giving them impunity to attack. Burned villages confirmed harrowing stories we had heard from Darfurians who were lucky enough to make it to refugee camps in Chad.

In village after village that I visited, the painstakingly accumulated wealth of the non-Arab population - their livestock, their homes, their grainstocks - had been abruptly destroyed. About 1.5 million people have been left homeless, and as many as 300,000 may be dead by year's end.

I was not prepared for the far more sinister scene I encountered in a ravine deep in the Darfur desert. Bodies of young men were lined up in ditches, eerily preserved by the 130-degree desert heat.

The story the rebels told us seemed plausible: The dead were civilians who had been marched up a hill and executed by the Arab-led government before its troops abandoned the area the previous month. The rebels assert that there were many other such scenes.

Refugees in Chad claim people had been stuffed into wells by the Janjaweed to poison the water supply. We went looking for these wells and found them covered in sand, in what might be construed as an effort by the Sudanese regime to cover its tracks.

While Western dignitaries visited camps teeming with refugees from Darfur and elsewhere, I encountered large numbers of displaced civilians inside the rebel-held areas of Darfur, where no camps exist and not a drop of international assistance has been delivered. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of survivors who have fallen through the cracks. Some of them say they are afraid to travel to government-controlled camps and unable to make it to the border. They're running out of food.It is urgent that the UN, donors and nongovernmental organizations demand access to these desolate areas, to deliver aid to the people left behind. And it is not enough to collect testimonies only from refugees in the government camps , as the State Department is beginning to do. Investigators must cross into the rebel-held zones of Darfur to exhume evidence and conduct inquiries there as well.

Obviously, in such a dire situation security is paramount, both for the delivery of humanitarian aid and for the creation of conditions to allow Darfurians to return to their homes. Yet for all the visibility of Darfur lately,the UN and others have accepted a Sudanese plan under which the wolf will guard the henhouse. The international community has called on the government to disarm the same militias it helped create and arm, and to use government police to patrol the same camps the regime has been terrorizing. A mere 300 African Union troops spread over an area the size of France are meant to ensure the government's change of heart. This formula guarantees that six months from now the Janjaweed will still be in a position to kill, rape and pillage.

It is time to move directly against regime officials who are responsible for the killing. Accountability for crimes against humanity is imperative, as is the deployment of sufficient force to ensure disarmament and arrangements to deliver emergency aid.

The sands of the Sahara should not be allowed to swallow the evidence of what will probably go down as one of the greatest crimes in our lifetime.

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