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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Darfur ignorance offends

By Tim Rehborg
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 12, 2006

I was talking with one of my classmates the other day: an educated, liberal, well-traveled and active member of society. Or so I thought. We were discussing conflicts in various parts of the world, and I mentioned the conflict in Darfur. “Darfur? What’s that?” she asked.

I, of course, was shocked. How could she not know about Darfur? I spoke quickly to enlighten her, cooling the fires of righteous indignation inside me. Since then, I’ve realized that she isn’t alone; much of the public is entirely ignorant as to the happenings in Darfur.

Here’s a quick review. Darfur is an arid region located in the Western region of Sudan. In 2003, rebels from this region began attacking government outposts. The rebels claimed the Khartoum-based government had been discriminating against and oppressing black Africans in favor of Arabs.

The reactions to these rebel attacks were two-fold. The government mobilized self-defense militias, but more violent retaliations came from groups of Janjaweed accused of “ethnic cleansing,” i.e. “clearing” the Darfur region of black Africans.

Refugees from Darfur claim that after air raids from government vehicles, the Janjaweed ride in on camels, raping, killing and pillaging.

Eventually, various human rights groups, Congress and former Secretary of State Colin Powell all declared the acts of the Janjaweed genocide. However, a United Nations (UN) investigation team says that the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed are guilty of war crimes, not genocide.

Approximately two million of the regions six million inhabitants have fled their homes. An estimated 300,000 have died, and almost three million are in desperate need of food aid.

Most refugees have made their way toward the border of neighboring Chad, displaced far from their homes. However, relations between Chad and Sudan are strained, and the safety found across the border is fleeting.

People beginning to return to southern Sudan, three years after the conflict began, are finding themselves in one of the poorest regions in Africa, putting further strain on and already-burdened countryside. Due to a drop in donations, the UN has been forced to cut almost in half its already meager food-aid budget for Darfur.

To date, the only real effort to stop this genocide and injustice has been the deployment of 7,000 troops from the African Union, hardly enough soldiers to be effective in an area roughly the size of France.

It has taken the UN until this spring to take action, resolving to impose sanctions against four prominent Sudanese nationals involved in the conflict. Furthermore, talks between the Khartoum government and the largest rebel group may now lead to further UN involvement in the crisis.

Just this Monday, President Bush ordered five food aid shipments to help in the Darfur region, as well as assistance to ensure the speedy dispersal of UN peacekeepers.

These very recent developments are a welcome change in the pragmatic attitudes of leaders in the Western world. Where were President Bush and the UN when the Janjaweed were killing black Africans in Darfur, sexually enslaving women and stealing whatever they could find?

Oh, right. We were fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless, blame doesn’t lie just with our leaders. The genocide of a people and the displacement of millions is important to anyone in the international community. I am disappointed in the media and the general populace’s complacency in this issue.

When a government or group of powerful people take action against an entire population, the response of the world should be one of horror and immediate action. Unfortunately for the many thousands dead in Darfur, this has not been the case.

I don’t need to tell you that Darfur is not isolated in this instance of genocide. I don’t know how to ultimately solve the conflict in Darfur. I do know that our complacency and our ignorance about horrors like this go nowhere in stopping the ambitions of genocidal forces. The media needs to place its attention towards these events, to inform the public, and hence garner the support needed for organizations, like the UN, to give aid where and when it is needed.

Staff Writer Tim Rehborg is a sophomore from Owatonna, Minn. He majors in English and in dance.

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