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Unhappy anniversary for Darfur's frightened civilians

Omar al bashir blog
Sudanese President Omar al Bashir in the capital Khartoum on April 22, 2010. Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup backed by Islamists and later won an election. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember Darfur?

It was the cause du jour a decade ago, when thousands of people were slaughtered by the forces of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, and 2.7 million driven out of their homes.

Since then, Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide, a peacekeeping force was assembled and the buzz around Darfur has died down to a whisper.

But it’s not as though Bashir has let the people of the western Darfur region live in peace. Many of them are squatting in camps where they’re subjected to a campaign of fear by government forces: killings, attacks, looting, kidnapping and sexual violence, according to human rights reports.

The notorious janjaweed militias – blamed for many of the deaths in Darfur and not acknowledged by Bashir as under his command -- are now members of the Border Guards enlisted by Sudanese Military Intelligence. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

In and out of uniform they’ve continued to attack Darfur civilians, most recently in February, when hundreds of gunmen launched a major assault on the northern Darfur town of El Siref, which sheltered some 60,000 displaced people. More than 50 were killed and 66 wounded.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, armed rebels believed to be backed by Sudan’s government opened fire on a UN convoy, killing five peacekeepers and seven civilian workers in South Sudan.

And Bashir?

He’s as free as ever, and is scheduled to appear Wednesday at an anti-desertification summit in neighboring Chad – which is a member of the ICC, but has refused on three earlier visits to arrest him and ship him to The Hague.

It’s backed by other African Union countries which deferred co-operation with the international court on the grounds that heads of state have immunity from prosecution. They have asked the International Court of Justice for its opinion.

While the diplomatic dance continues, so does the bloodshed.

“In the last three months alone,” says Amnesty International, “500 people were reportedly killed and roughly 100,000 displaced in attacks against civilians that have involved members of government forces.”

In other words, déjà vu.

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards. 




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