Sudan: January 21, 2005

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Australia says it will provide the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force with two C-130 transports for use in the AU's Darfur peacekeeping mission. C-130s with good crews are exactly what the AU effort needs. Right now the AU troops lack mobility and resupply is iffy. Meanwhile, new reports out of Chad are challenging earlier assertions that starvation and disease (secondary effects of the war) are the biggest killers in Darfur. A study, commissioned by the US, interviewed Darfurian refugees in Chad. Sixty-one percent of those interviewed said that they had witnessed the murder of a family member --we repeat, personally witnessed a murder-- committed by either Sudanese military forces or Islamist militiamen. The report cited two academic sources who had examined the study's statistical methods and said the methods were solid. Still, caution is in order. Conducting careful, sober interviews amid the chaos and suffering of refugee camps is a real challenge. But if the survey results are correct, and if  two million people have been displaced by the fighting in Darfur, then  up to 200,000 people have been killed. The official UN death toll estimate is currently 70,000, nearly twice the normal death rate. The Sudanese government insists that because of drought, the death rate would be even higher, accounting for nearly all the deaths the UN says have taken place. The government insists that deaths from violence have been greatly exaggerated. 

There may be problems with the higher number. The definition of "family member" is also an issue. But there may be problems with the survey and the use of language. In a clan-based society, a person western societies would call a distant relative, might qualify as a "family member." Other teams working with the refugees are reporting stories of mass graves inside Sudan. The only way to adequately check those reports and inspect the alleged gravesites is to put qualified international forensic teams into the region. That would require the cooperation of Sudan's military --the organization accused of committing murders.

 

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