[IMC-DC] BTL Q&A 7-5-04: Darfur Region of Sudan in Midst of Humanitarian Crisis
sharris at snet.net
Mon Jul 5 22:23:15 PDT 2004
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 3, 2004
Darfur Region of Sudan
in Midst of Humanitarian Crisis
Black Congressional Caucus Calls on U.S. to Intervene
Interview with Salih Booker,
executive director of Africa Action,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Listen in RealAudio:
<a HREF="http://www.btlonline.org/booker070904.ram">Click here!</a>
A humanitarian crisis is ongoing in Darfur, the western region of Sudan,
where over the past year, at least 10,000 black Muslim Sudanese have
been killed by Arab Muslim Sudanese militias with the tacit support of
the Arab central government in Khartoum. In addition, a million
residents of Darfur have been displaced -- ethnically cleansed -- with
120,000 of them fleeing to refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Aid groups
say a million or more people from the Darfur region are at risk of dying
from starvation and disease if nothing is done. The conflict has
historical roots, but escalated in 2003 when two rebel groups in Darfur
demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power
sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state.
The U.S. Congress recently authorized additional funds to aid in the
relief effort. At the end of June, both United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Darfur
to assess the situation. On June 23, the Congressional Black Caucus
endorsed a petition drive initiated by the group Africa Action that
calls on the U.S. government to define the events in Darfur as
"genocide" and to intervene militarily to stop the killing and
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Salih Booker, executive
director of Africa Action, about the role the U.S. could play in
providing humanitarian relief in Sudan, the dangers that poses, and why,
as the world was remembering the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan
genocide last April, the U.N. has been so slow to intervene in this
Salih Booker: The question is, can U.S. power be put to good use in the
world today? Can it be used to save lives and stop a genocide as in the
case of Sudan, compared to being used unilaterally for regime change to
bring destruction to countries on false premises, etc.? So certainly
theres great reticence to advocate U.S. intervention, given the history
of U.S. interventions around the world. At the same time, you look at
whats happening in Sudan, you recognize its a genocide, you recognize
that all these countries have an obligation to stop it. Then you look at
who has the assets, and who has the resources that could most quickly be
summoned to put a stop to this while the United Nations pulls together a
formal, blue-helmeted U.N. peace-keeping operation -- which, generally
speaking -- takes several months to both pass the resolutions and
assemble the forces based on other countries contributing.
Between The Lines: And thats why youre not directing this to the U.N.
in the first place?
Salih Booker: Thats why were not directing it to the U.N., and also,
because the U.N. is only as strong and as pro-active as its membership,
and particularly the permanent members of the Security Council. The
problem right now is the Security Council has hesitated on Darfur
largely because of the economic and diplomatic interests of the
permanent members, whether its China or France or Britain, etc. They
all have economic interests, including oil interests, in Sudan, and have
been reluctant to antagonize the government in Khartoum for fear of
losing oil contracts.
So what we feel strongly is needed now is a military intervention to
stop the killings, provide security so a program of humanitarian
assistance can be mounted to the displaced, to the refugees, to the
million people who are internally displaced and the two million people
that are going to be facing famine and death by disease if theres not
an adequate humanitarian response in the coming weeks. And thirdly, to
enforce the cease-fire that the African Union had negotiated back in
April. So, this is a short-term mission. And what were saying is that
the U.S. government has 2,000 troops in nearby Djibouti in east Africa.
They wouldnt even need to deploy that number. They would only need to
deploy a few hundred troops to play the lead role in a multinational
force -- we would never advocate that this be a U.S. unilateral
intervention, but that African countries, particularly those in the
region -- would be willing to contribute troops to a U.S.-led
intervention with this very brief mandate to immediately go to Darfur,
stop the fighting, allow humanitarian assistance in, and allow the U.N.
time to put together a formal blue-helmet peacekeeping operation.
Between The Lines: In fact, are there African countries that have
expressed a willingness to work in this kind of collaboration, or you
just hope they will?
Salih Booker: No, they have already, and this was also the case last
year when the crisis broke out in Liberia and west African troops were
prepared to participate in an intervention there and requested U.S.
leadership. The U.S., of course, declined, causing delays, causing the
loss of hundreds of lives in Liberia, and ultimately it was the
Nigerians and other west Africans who took on the sole responsibility
for the intervention in Liberia. In the case of Sudan, the African Union
actually provided leadership in negotiating the cease-fire between the
government and rebel groups in Darfur, and they have put together a
truce observer mission, and they already have a small team of ten people
in Darfur that arrived at the beginning of June and they are supposed to
deploy a total of 120 observers, but they dont have a mandate to do
anything other than observe and report on violations of the ceasefire,
and they are not yet even operational. What it represents on the one
hand is African leadership to try to end this conflict. On the other
hand, the lack of capacity on the part of the AU to do whats absolutely
needed at this moment.
Between The Lines: Ive been reading Nicholas Kristoffs columns in the
NYT about families killed in Darfur or ethnically cleansed out of the
region. What do you think is the level of knowledge or awareness in the
U.S. of this crisis?
Salih Booker: I think the American media is beginning to focus on the
crisis in Darfur. Its several months since the media in Africa and
Europe have been focusing on this. This has been a lead story elsewhere
in the world for several months now, and the U.S. is just now beginning
to give it a bit of focus. And its a critical issue. This is the tenth
anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. All the governments around the
world and politicians have been saying, Never again. As they said
after Cambodia, as they said after the Holocaust, and yet they continue
to dance around the issue and avoid calling this a genocide. So thats
why we feel its so urgent to call for this kind of intervention. And
also, to begin to really critically look at, what is the appropriate use
of American power in the 21st century. And can citizens of this country
demand that their government put this power to use in the interest of
defending human rights and human life?
To get more information, or to sign the group's petition, call (202)
546-7961, or visit the group's website at http://www.africaaction.org
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on
more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the
award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines
(http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending July 9, 2004. This
Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.
AOL users: <a HREF="http://www.btlonline.org">Click here!</a>
PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email
betweenthelines at snet.net.
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