War and Conflict


What was the crisis in Darfur, Sudan?

The brutal violence, really a genocide, in Darfur began in February 2003 and was still ongoing two years later as United Nations (UN) negotiators tried to broker a peace agreement. Sudanese government troops and government-backed Arab militia, called the janjaweed, were engaged in a violent campaign that targeted black African civilians from the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups in the western Sudanese state of Darfur (which is about the size of Texas). Reports from the Human Rights Watch and UN agencies working in Sudan indicated that large-scale bombing and burning campaigns had destroyed entire villages, tens of thousands of Darfurians had been raped and killed, and as many as 2 million had been displaced by early 2005. International relief efforts were hampered by ongoing violence, putting millions of women and children at risk of starvation and disease. Observers called for an international response to the crisis to avert “another Rwanda.” In April 2005 the UN Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the International Criminal Court. But to date, no one had been able to stop the campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The Darfur crisis was part of a greater and older conflict in Sudan. The east African nation, whose neighbors include Egypt to the north and Ethiopia to the east, was in 2005 the scene of Africa’s oldest civil war. The conflict had pit the Arab (Muslim) north against the Christian and animist south since 1984. But diplomatic efforts to resolve that decades-old conflict had so far failed in 2005: The Muslim regime based in the national capital of Khartoum was unwilling to share power and wealth. Thus, when Khartoum was hit with a rebellion in 2003, it retaliated by inciting the brutality in Darfur. Diplomats worked to resolve the north-south civil conflict, offering Sudan a package of debt relief and development aid that could reach $100 million. Critics of that plan said that incentives were not enough, and that sanctions should be levied against the nation to pressure the government to move toward ceasefire.


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