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The Hindu
August 2, 2004

Not an 'Arab-African conflict'
By Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohammad

It has become apparent that the Darfur issue is caught up in the sort of propaganda and misinformation that has characterised previous coverage of Sudan by the western media. Concepts that our people have never heard of, let alone practiced, such as" genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" are being repeated by hostile circles on both sides of the Atlantic. This is like the lies they told their own people and the international community about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Many of those who prolonged the life of the obnoxious apartheid system in South Africa have recently joined this new chorus of Africa well-wishers.

The campaign is augmented also by some of the U.N. humanitarian agencies, skilled in the art of statistics inflation about the numbers of the affected population in conflict zones. Rather than contribute to conflict resolution, these agencies become part of the problem.

Why should the Government of Sudan, which has won the admiration of the world community for the landmark agreements signed with the Southern rebels, start a new war in its western regions?

Political and media reactions to the developments in the Darfur region raise the question whether Cold War tools will continue to guide crisis response in this era. This is especially so considering the tendency of big powers to find scapegoats away from challenging and thorny issues such as Palestine and Iraq-Threats of so-called humanitarian intervention raise doubts about the maturity of the world system in handling local situations. This, especially when such crises can be traced back to under-development, external indebtedness, sanctions and the scarcity of resource flows.

Results of the last G-8 Summit relating to New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), along with the shrinking resources at the disposal of major humanitarian agencies such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are cases in point. Rather than diagnosing the root causes of the Darfur issue - essentially the emergence of armed bandits terrorising the local people following prolonged drought in the area with resultant dislocation among the population - certain media and political circles in the West resorted to misleading accounts of so-called cleansing by the 'Arabs' against the 'Africans'. Such labelling cannot apply to the Sudanese context. The people of Darfur are all Muslims and Arabic-speaking the entire country is a melting-pot and union of colourful diversities.

The reality is that there has been considerable armed banditry in the area. Some armed groups have access to weapons that have proliferated in the neighbouring border areas as a result of the various intra-and inter-state wars in the region during the past decades.

It is a conflict over resources and access to water involving traditional farming communities and the nomads with their distinctive and age-old ways of life; a situation not peculiar to Sudan. Partisan analysts playing the ethnic card would like to blow the Darfur issue out of proportion. This is to regain mileage lost when their religious stereotyping of the Southern problem was exposed with the signing of the Peace Agreement. This ended decades of a conflict that had never been religious in nature, and which the country faced even before independence in 1956. It was a result of unbalanced development because of the colonial administration's policies including the notorious Closed District Act. It is divide-and-rule wine in new glasses.

The Government's commitment to addressing all grievances raised by peaceful means needs no elaboration. The recent Presidential measures to disarm all militias to allow unhindered humanitarian access to the needy, to mobilise local and international resources for the development of the area to promote the home-grown initiatives and the holding of a conference on peace and development in Durfur, are examples. Propagandists cannot have it both ways by criticising the Government for inaction and then attacking it for responding firmly to terrorism and lawlessness. It is hoped the international community will lend its support to such initiatives including those of the regional umbrella, the African Union. Threats of armed intervention will only create another Falluja in the desert.

(The writer is the Ambassador of Sudan to India)

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