Friday, August 06, 2004

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

The New York Times brings us a revelation that turns out to be as shocking as learning that water is wet - it transpires that the Sudanese police and the Janjaweed are one and the same!:

NYALA, Sudan, Aug. 5 - Sudan's government lined up 50 prisoners at the main jail here recently and offered them as evidence to the world that it was cracking down on the militias that have stained so much of the desert sand of Darfur, the country's western region, with blood.

But when the men spoke and when their court files were reviewed, it quickly became clear that many of them were not members of the militias, which have displaced a million villagers in the last year and a half and killed tens of thousands in what the United States Congress calls a genocide.

Among the group were petty criminals who had already been in jail as long as four years. One man's charge was drinking wine in a country that forbids it.

The United Nations Security Council has given Sudan until Aug. 30 to rein in the militias, called the Janjaweed, Arab tribesmen whom the government armed and then unleashed in Darfur to quell a rebellion among darker-skinned Africans that began in early 2003. Failure to disarm the militias could mean sanctions against the government in Khartoum.

But Janjaweed is a fluid identity, and diplomats here say the government has exploited the ambiguity. First it armed the militias, rallied them and set them loose in Darfur. Then it gave many of the same men uniforms and declared them upholders of the law. Sometimes the Janjaweed have served as law enforcement officers by day and reverted to pillaging at night.

The government says it has sent thousands of security officers to Darfur to impose order and plans to send thousands more. But whether the government is bringing the Janjaweed to heel, or even if it can, is far from clear.

"If you sent 200 soldiers out to get the Janjaweed, maybe 50 of them would probably be Janjaweed themselves,'' said Osman Mirghani, a prominent columnist for the Sudanese newspaper Al Rayaam who has written frequently and frankly about the conflict in Darfur, sometimes incurring the wrath of the government.

"A Janjaweed is a Janjaweed when he is on his horse with his gun, going to burn and kill,'' Mr. Mirghani said. "But when he comes back to his village and hides his gun he is no different than anyone else. Maybe he's a policeman during the day and a Janjaweed at night.''

Indeed, in many cases the government has provided the Janjaweed with uniforms, identification cards and commissions in the police, army or popular defense force, according to interviews with aid workers, local human rights advocates and others. As far as the government is concerned they are no longer Janjaweed.

"I'm a soldier now,'' said one such new recruit, a Arab teenager who was smiling as he cradled his assault rifle. He was speaking to his schoolteacher, a black African, who had seen him with Janjaweed leaders.

Without their guns and horses, without the head wraps they use to shield themselves from Darfur's searing heat and blowing wind, the Janjaweed blend easily into the local population. When not in government-issued camouflage uniforms, they wear the long white robes common among Sudanese.

Some sit behind desks when they are not pillaging. Others herd camels by day but do unspeakable things once the desert turns dark at night.
This bit of long-held knowledge being presented here as news is precisely what makes the current UN charade with Sudan so frustrating: why the pretense that what is going on is merely ethnic slaughter that isn't being held in check by an indifferent government, when the reality is that it's actually that very government which is instigating it? All this talk about giving Sudan 30 days to do this or that just reads to me as "We'll give you a little more time to finish the job, but hurry up, or public opinion might force us to do something!"