Day for Darfur inspires protests in 32 countries

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has launched a behind-the-scenes initiative to bring maximum international pressure to bear upon Sudan to lift its ban on a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping force being sent into Darfur. The government of Sudan has shown steady intransigence in the face of last week's UN Security Council resolution authorising a peacekeeping mission to the far west of Sudan.

It has condemned the proposal as "neo-colonialism" and an infringement of its sovereignty. Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, has vowed to fight off UN troops himself, and warned that Sudan would take on international soldiers "as Hizbollah beat Israeli forces". It has also said that al-Qa'ida insurgents would enter Sudan to fight the UN.

"We are all very worried about what's happening in Darfur at the moment," Hilary Benn, the British International Development Secretary, told The Independent yesterday. "We need maximum united international pressure."

Direct attempts by London and Washington have so far failed to shift Sudan. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, saw the Sudanese Foreign Minister in Washington two days ago but the meeting was unsatisfactory. George Bush has offered to meet Mr Bashir at next week's UN General Assembly debate. The Sudanese leader is not keen to meet the US President, who two years ago accused his regime of genocide in Darfur.

Downing Street has therefore been trying to apply pressure to Sudan through its allies - China, Russia, Egypt and the Gulf states. Mr Blair raised the subject of Darfur three times when he met the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, in London this week. China owns 13 of Sudan's top 15 companies, it buys more than 50 per cent of Sudan's crude oil, and Beijing has repeatedly blocked attempts at the UN to crack down on Khartoum's murderous policy in Darfur. Premier Wen expressed concern but it is unclear whether China will act.

Margaret Beckett, the British Foreign Secretary, last week visited Egypt, which was instrumental in persuading Khartoum to accept African Union (AU) peacekeepers two years ago. Egyptian officials told her that they thought agreement with Sudan might still be achieved, but they would not push the imposition of an international force.

Pressure is also being applied via the Gulf states and the Arab League. Most active is the AU, which sees Darfur as the first big test of its effectiveness as a replacement for the toothless old Organisation of African Unity. Its president, Alpha Oumar Konaré, has made Darfur his top priority.

The European Union is active, with its president, Jose Manuel Barroso, working on visiting Darfur soon in person. There will be considerable diplomatic activity at next week's UN meeting and at a meeting of African Union leaders on the fringe of the General Assembly on Monday. The aim is to get all the leaders of the AU, EU, Arab League and US to sign up to a single statement. "We are engaged in trying to get the world community speaking with one voice," said Mr Benn. Whether that can be achieved is unclear. "At the very least we hope to be able to offer every support to the African Union mission," said Mr Benn. "It has been doing a good job in very, very difficult circumstances, but it hasn't got enough troops and it needs to improve its command and control."

The real question is how world leaders can get President Bashir to back down. The Blair initiative is understood to offer a mix of carrot and stick, with additional aid and debt relief being offered for good behaviour and the threat of sanctions otherwise.

"We are anxious to offer them a ladder to climb down," said one senior official yesterday. "But they should be in no doubt whatsover that, if they set their face against everybody else, then the international community isn't going to sit on its hands on this one."

Tens of thousands of protesters - in 32 different countries - will demonstrate tomorrow in a Day for Darfur, in protest at the continuing violence in the west of Sudan, where at least 200,000 have been killed and two million people made homeless.

In London there will be three protests. Outside the Sudanese embassy survivors of the Nazi, Rwandan and Bosnian genocides will assemble. Later they will open an exhibition on the Darfur crisis at the Old Vic Theatre.

Outside Downing Street Muslim imams will join Jewish and Christian leaders, including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in a multi-faith service.

In the US the former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, will address a large rally in Central Park, New York. Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the impotent UN peacekeeping forces during the massacres in Rwanda, will speak in Toronto. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu will also take part.

The protest is over the refusal of the Sudanese government to allow a 20,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force into Darfur to protect the civilian population as a war escalates between the Sudanese army - with its ruthless Janjaweed militia - and various rebel groups. Campaigners fear that Sudan will use the new offensive to impose a brutal and definitive solution.

Tomorrow has been chosen because it is the first anniversary of a revision of international law by world leaders at the United Nations which insisted that the need to protect people from atrocities must override the notion of national sovereignty.

Under the Responsibility To Protect (RTP), the UN agreed that states would share "responsibility to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner" to prevent grave atrocities like genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity "when the government of the people concerned is unwilling or unable to do so".

Darfur is the first real test of whether the international community will act by that promise.

For information see: www.dayfordarfur.org

'Never again'. But do they mean it?

Susan Pollack, SURVIVOR, THE HOLOCAUST IN EUROPE

I was 13 years old when German troops came to my village of Felsogod in Hungary and took my father. I never saw him again. Then they came for me and my family and sent us to Auschwitz. My mother was gassed to death as soon as we arrived. I survived Auschwitz, slave labour, selection at the hands of Doctor Josef Mengele and a death march to Belsen before I was 15. I can still see the mountains of corpses at Auschwitz. After the Holocaust, the world said "never again". Today they are still saying it, but when genocides like Darfur go on unchecked, I'm beginning to wonder if they mean it.

Beatha Uwazaninka, SURVIVOR, GENOCIDE IN RWANDA

When the genocide began, I was 14 years old and it was hard to make sense of it.

For three months, I was on the run, hiding in sugar cane fields and the houses of the dead. I narrowly avoided being raped and murdered but a million of my people, including my family and friends, were massacred in the space of a hundred days while the world looked on.

I have rebuilt my life and have a baby girl now. For her sake, and the sake of millions of others all over the world, I have to speak out about what is going on today in Darfur.

Kemal Pervanic, SURVIVOR, ETHNIC CLEANSING IN BOSNIA

Life in the Serb concentration camps was horrific. I witnessed atrocities daily. You live day-to-day, keeping your head down in case you catch a guard's eye; seeing men called out who never return; hearing their tortured screams. Despite the lessons of the failures in Rwanda and the Balkans hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been killed in Darfur and no one cares enough to stop it. Western governments dithered over Bosnia. This time, despite the fact that it's Muslims being killed, it is Arab governments whose silence is allowing the conflict to continue unabated.

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