We need to find a way to send in foreign observers and organize an effort abroad

People I met everywhere were asking me to stay. It was terrible when I listened to them saying that my presence as a journalist there, with a camera, a PC and a satellite link was the reason that the Janjaweed wouldn’t attack them – ordinary women and small children. So I stayed for much longer than I should have, until the passage to Chad became extremely dangerous because of armed conflict between various rebel groups. Then, with the assistance of the Slovenian president, I referred my case to the African Union, asking for their assistance to cross into Chad. At first they agreed, but when I appeared they said that they didn’t want any involvement and they took me to the regional headquarters of the AU. There, their head, an Arab from northern Darfur himself, decided to hand me over to the military security service. What were you accused of and how was the experience of detention? I was detained for sending reports from the rebel regions without special permission from the government; nobody though gets permission from this government. Initially the reason for arresting me was that I had arrived in the country without an entry visa, later on the charge was upgraded to dissemination of false information and espionage. I spent five days in the hands of the military security service and another five in police custody before going before a court, which ordered an investigation into my case. The investigation procedure was somewhat difficult since my captors were screaming and cursing constantly, they punched me once, and on another occasion six soldiers, without an officer present, took me to the garbage dump and ordered me to urinate in a hole dug to my size. Two, three, tough minutes passed before they started joking and took me back to my cell. Finally, in a letter of pardon, the president of Sudan granted me amnesty in the name of Allah after an appeal from the president of Slovenia. When I was held captive during August 2005 two more journalists were arrested. A young American and Paul Salopec, who had twice been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. All of us were eventually released but there were moments when we thought that our fates depended on the political gains the government would reap in exchange. To what extent can the term «genocide» be attributed to what you have seen in Darfur? The extermination of rebels in Darfur is very similar to the war in southern Sudan. Essentially it is the methodical destruction of communities who support them. This translates into «dry up the water hole and you will get the fish.» For me this is tantamount to genocide. For others, it appears that the crematoriums and professionalism of the Third Reich must be in evidence before they use the term. Still, people who have passed through the region agree that there is a systematic pattern of extermination of the African population and transformation of the country into an Arab one. When a document proving the existence of mass graves was found on my computer, a high-ranking military officer from Khartoum ordered that anyone taking pictures of graves should be executed, including UN officials. It was only the fear of the political cost that prevented something like this happening. Under what conditions do the people of Darfur live today? Very, very difficult, very depressing. There is no future, living under the constant fear of the Janjaweed attacks. We all know the government fosters these attacks. From villages on the border with Chad to the rebel groups, I met people everywhere eating from packages sent by the World Food Program of the UN. Without food supplies, famine would be rife, since over the last four years all livestock has been killed, peasants have left and the land isn’t cultivated. The picture I have is that 90 percent of international aid goes to refugee camps that are under the control of the government, 9.90 percent to the population of the regions controlled by Mini Minawi and only 0.10 percent to the areas where the forces of Abdel Wahid are deployed. Lack of food and clean water is another reason for the continuation of this war. The absence of every type of infrastructure has driven people to the mountains where they must confront local tribes determined to defend their land. How responsible are Western societies for the severity of this humanitarian crisis and how could a more determined international community alleviate these dreadful conditions? I am certain that international public attention could protect many people in Darfur from annihilation or displacement to Chad and Central Africa. In my case, when serious pressure was exerted on the Sudanese government for my release, they responded. Politicians and the government take criticism, negative comments and pressure very seriously. The intransigent profile to which they cling is a sham; in fact they are very careful not to isolate themselves. Initially there should have been a clear-cut denouncement of the genocide from the EU. There is no doubt that in the last 50 years a plan for the Arabization of the population has developed in Sudan. Why has the confrontation between the African population and the Arab element reached this level of violence? This relationship is a subject of great interest. The Arab element arrived in the area at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. It was solely because of trade that Arab culture and Islam spread and gradually marginalized other regional cultures. However, there are still major internal complications. For example, Arabs in Darfur are branded by other Sudanese as pagan Islamists, and their mosques are destroyed and their Qurans burnt. But, the real causes of war have always been the political and economical interests that capitalized on and exacerbated these divisions. The government of Sudan is mainly accountable for the war both in the south and in Darfur; it never respected human rights or any sense of humanism. What are the interests you refer to? One should consider the complexity of the situation in order to form a clear picture of the war in Sudan. Imagine Libya under Colonel Muammar Khadafy – who first envisioned the creation of an Arab country and played a leading part in consolidating the Arab element – cooperating with and supporting the rebels. I have seen with my own eyes the Mercedes trucks crossing the desert from Libya to Darfur carrying equipment for the rebels. On another level Darfur has increasingly become one of the front lines between networks of international terrorism and the US. The US, through Khadafy, is supporting the rebels of Mini Minawi, while Khartoum has always maintained some kind of relationship with al-Qaida. China, on top of it all, blocks every effort for a resolution at the UN, winning time in order to promote its own interests in the region. Even though we should be careful about making these kinds of generalizations, the war in Sudan is in fact partly the result of a conflict between China and the US. Is there any chance things will improve in the immediate future? New negotiations are planned for Eritrea, which will be attended only by the government and one of the rebel groups. In the rebels’ eyes this country isn’t a neutral mediator. There is a huge deficit of trust on every side. For example, Arabs bribe people in the African Union, whose personnel often have very real and human weaknesses. Can the war spread further in the region? The Janjaweed are already attacking eastern Chad and the insurgency is gradually spreading to this area. The war in Somalia and other conflicts in the region make it one of the most unstable on the continent. Many tribes living around Darfur originate and remain culturally and historically tied to the region, while many young people are recruited to return and fight there. Eastern Chad is even poorer than Darfur, an immense part of a country in which everything of some value had been in the hands of France since the era of colonialism. Years of war have increased inequality and people have no other means to resist domination and oppression than the most primitive. With conflict serving the interests of so many, it wouldn’t be hard to predict new friction erupting in the area. If we are really interested in helping these communities, we need to find a way to send in foreign observers and organize an effort abroad. Somewhere in Europe would be best.

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