348508_44124480466@N01.jpg Sudanese baby Africa Oil Watch: Manna from heaven in Darfur - Getting aid into Darfur is like squeezing a watermelon through a keyhole

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Manna from heaven in Darfur - Getting aid into Darfur is like squeezing a watermelon through a keyhole

CNN report August 12, 2004, by Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent, from Habila in Western Darfur - in full:

Sacks of Sudanese sorghum, U.S. wheat, Candian split peas and pulses are falling from the sky, providing the villagers of Habila their first food aid in three months. In wave after wave, 414 tons of food have been delivered recently. It's still just a drop in the desert, but a much needed one. "Trying to get aid into Western Darfur is like trying to squeeze a watermelon through a keyhole because of the infrastructure, the size of the airport and the rainy season," says Peter Smerdon, spokesman the U.N.'s World Food Programme.

Because of the rains, the village of Habila is completely cut off. There's not an inch of paved road, and dirt tracks are now muddy gulleys. Despite the fresh grown grass, from the air one can see evidence of the war that has burned the straw roofs of huts, destroyed hundreds of villages and left more than 2 million people across Darfur entirely dependent on humanitarian aid. International relief workers are trying to save lives in a desperate battle against malnutrition. So far it's struck at least 20 percent of the children.

Late planning for this emergency and a slow response from donor countries mean the United Nations is now making these expensive and inefficient air drops as a last resort.

It looks impressive, but it only amounts to a fraction of these people's monthly needs -- and the violence continues. The United Nations says the Sudanese government has resumed bombing raids on rebels in south Darfur. It also says villagers are still being attacked by Janjaweed militias.

Habib Makhtoum, the vice governor of western Darfur, denies that. He also denies reports the government is forcibly trying to move people out of camps back to their destroyed villages. "There is no violence here, and no compulsory repatriation," Makhtoum says. "On the contrary, people ask us to help them go back. In fact, most people tell us they won't go back home until there's proper security."

In the meantime, this is their fate: A desperate rush to retrieve whatever aid comes their way. The men are sent out to haul it back for distribution, and women sweep and save every last grain from sacks that explode on impact.

Each family treasures the strict rations that are carefully doled out. After all, they don't know when they'll get their their next delivery.
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Update - inserted Sunday August 22, 2004:

Sudan rebels seek weapons, food aid
For about 600,000 civilians living in the areas under their control

Aug 21 WT report, copied here in full:

Like Western governments and international relief groups, rebel leader Suleiman Jamous worries about getting food to victims of ethnic cleansing in western Sudan.

But he is also seeking modern weapons to build his ragtag Sudan Liberation Army into a force that can capture cities abandoned earlier to Sudanese troops and force the government to grant equal rights to non-Arabs in the region.

"We need SAMs to shoot down Antonovs; we need anti-tank weapons, we need ammunition," said Mr. Jamous, referring to anti-aircraft missiles and the aging Soviet-built planes used by Sudan's army.

Mr. Jamous, a tall, gaunt man, wearing the traditional long shirt and a turban made from camouflage netting, is the No. 3 official for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in northern Darfur.

He is also the coordinator for humanitarian affairs in the SLA's political affiliate, the Sudanese Liberation Movement.

"We have about 600,000 civilians living in the areas under our control," Mr. Jamous said. But it's a number that is hard to verify. There has been no reliable census data in Sudan for years.

And despite the presence of SLA troops, who roam the countryside with heavy machine guns mounted in the back of their pickup trucks, most civilians are too terrified of the Sudanese army to come back to their villages from their hiding places in the hills and deserts.

Those who show up at wells, filling goat skins with water for the rest of the family still hiding in the hills, tell of misery and impending hunger. Muhammad Abdurahim Ishag, a stocky, muscular peasant who looks 20 years fitter than his 65, said his family has been surviving on wild herbs and makhet, a pealike fruit that the locals eat when they have nothing else.

The women have made forays close to government-controlled cities to buy some food, Mr. Ishag said.
"The government doesn't allow any food to leave the cities," Mr. Ishag said, watching his youngest son filling goat skins with water, "so our friends smuggle out food and sell it to us outside the cities."

The SLA marks Aug. 1, 2001, as the beginning of its insurrection.

"In 2001, the army massacred 57 civilians in a place called Tuel," Mr. Jamous said. "So the whole area was angry and joined the SLA. The news spread that the government was killing even innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the SLA."

Mr. Jamous said the uprising grew out of resentment over the campaign of forced Arabization carried out by successive governments in Khartoum. "They [the government] have gathered landless Arabs from Chad, Mali, Niger and Central African Republic, promising them to settle them in the lands of the African people of Darfur," he said. "This has been going on since 1982, when the first cases of ethnic cleansing started ... The government then denied responsibility, blaming it on tribal conflicts.

"But we knew who was behind the killings and the burning of the villages."

The present campaign by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed to suppress the uprising in Darfur only flooded the SLA with thousands of additional volunteers.

Mr. Jamous himself is a perfect example of what drove thousands of people in Darfur, one of Sudan's most underdeveloped areas, to take up arms against the government.

A graduate of the University of Alexandria in Egypt, he speaks perfect Arabic, but he could never breach a glass ceiling in his career. He worked at a paper-producing company, was employed by the government, set up his own business, but as an ethnic Zaghawa he was never allowed to rise above a certain position in Sudanese society, he said.

"Sudan has been ruled by a clique of Arab elites," Mr. Jamous said. "All the development — economic projects, health care and education — has been concentrated in Arab areas but they represent only 15 per cent of Sudan's population. We want to change that. We want equality, we want development — electricity, clean water, roads, schools. We want democracy."


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