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Darfur bleeds in the great scramble for Sudan's oil World stage
[February 16, 2006]

Darfur bleeds in the great scramble for Sudan's oil World stage


(The Daily Telegraph, Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Every village has been wrecked, burned or abandoned and every inch of the vast African plain is devoid of life.

For mile after mile, there are no people. The huts they once inhabited are blackened shells. The fields they once worked are empty. There will be no harvest this year, just as there has been no harvest since the outbreak of war.

Then, amid desolation and solitude, it becomes brutally obvious where the people are. Kalma refugee camp, with 96,000 inhabitants, teems with life. These are the survivors of the carnage, now reduced to living in shacks made of plastic sheets with "UNHCR'' stamped on them.



There are 1.8 million refugees in Darfur and another 200,000 in neighbouring Chad. The unpalatable truth is that they have fallen victim to unscrupulous regimes around the world. During the Cold War, they would have been caught between the two superpowers. Today, China, Russia and a host of African countries are the authors of this tragedy - though primary responsibility must rest with Sudan's regime.

When rebels from the so-called Sudan Liberation Army launched the war in 2003, the government recruited the Arab Janjaweed militias and gave them carte blanche to loot, murder and rape. Because the rebels were mainly black Africans from the Zaghawa, Fur and Masalit tribes, these ethnic groups were written off as enemies.


But how did Sudan get away with this? The United Nations Security Council has passed 10 resolutions on Darfur since July 2004, five of them under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, lending the strongest possible legal authority.

The first resolution, 1556, set a deadline of Aug 30, 2004 for Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed. Those aid workers and myself who saw the aftermath of a Janjaweed raid that displaced 55,000 people a fortnight ago may be forgiven a hollow laugh.

The next resolution, 1564, in September 2004, is the most revealing. This declared that Sudan had ignored its obligation to disarm the Janjaweed and proceeded to do, well, nothing actually. The Security Council declared it would "consider'' imposing sanctions on Sudan's burgeoning oil industry.

Why only "consider''? Well, because China pledged to veto any UN embargo. China's economic boom means that the quest for overseas oil is a central goal of its foreign policy. Sudan has 6.3 billion barrels of proved reserves which Beijing has begun exploiting on a grand scale. The China National Petroleum Company, a state-owned behemoth, has invested pounds 8 billion in Sudan's oil. The country exports 500,000 barrels a day through a Chinese-built pipeline. Most goes to China, which depends on Sudan for about seven per cent of its oil imports.

This has given Sudan's regime a windfall. Oil revenues last year were at least pounds 1 billion, enough to pay for war in Darfur and withstand international pressure. China has become Sudan's chief protector.

So Beijing is a key villain in Darfur's tragedy. Russia is also to blame. Land at any airport in Darfur and you see rows of Russian helicopter gunships, bristling with rockets and cannon, ready to raid villages in coordination with the Janjaweed.

Both Russia and China have supplied tanks, heavy artillery and fighter aircraft. America and the European Union have unilateral arms embargoes on Khartoum. But, astonishingly, there is no UN embargo on Sudan. Why? Because Russia and China would veto one.

Amid all the justified outrage over the Janjaweed, Darfur's rebels have escaped much of the blame they deserve. They are just as brutal as the Arab militias. Wrecked villages, all destroyed by the rebels, litter parts of Darfur.

The insurgents get their guns from Chad, Libya and Eritrea, which have long-standing grievances against Khartoum. They arm Darfur's rebels as a convenient means of retaliation. This cynical game keeps the insurgency alive and fuels the war.

Darfur's six million people - 300,000 have died in this conflict - are the helpless victims of this array of amoral governments.

So what can be done? First, we must give more aid. Aid agencies are scaling down operations because donations are drying up. Secondly, we must send a fully fledged UN peacekeeping force, with a robust mandate and proper logistical support.

But these are only palliatives. We must also face our own moral responsibility. Every time the Janjaweed destroy a village, they shame Britain, America and every country that sat in the council chamber and voted for all those UN resolutions without any apparent intention of enforcing their grand phrases.

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