victims of Sudan’s other conflicts neglected

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – While the world focuses on the crisis in Darfur, three times as many people have been suffering for many more years in two other conflicts involving the Sudanese government.

And, while money has flowed in to help the two million people in Sudan’s Darfur region who have been caught in 18 months of civil war, few funds are available for the six million Sudanese and Ugandans affected by related conflicts that have lasted more than 18 years.

“The magnitude of these other problems has been lost a bit because of the intensity of Darfur,” said Dennis McNamara, the top UN official dealing with people displaced within their own country by war.

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“You’ve got to deal comprehensively and even regionally if you want to stabilize these situations,” he told a small group of foreign journalists Friday.

McNamara recently returned from a trip to northern Uganda, where more than 1.6 million people have fled their homes because of an 18-year-old civil war between government forces and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

The rebels, operating from bases in the southern region of neighbouring Sudan, rarely try to hold territory in Uganda and concentrate their attacks on civilians. The group has abducted more than 30,000 women and children to use as servants, concubines and child soldiers, according to UNICEF.

As a result, more than 90 per cent of the population in northern Uganda has taken shelter in 180 refugee camps.

“We’re very concerned about (northern Uganda) being neglected. It’s been very hard to maintain international attention and donors haven’t funded it adequately,” McNamara said.

Only 43 per cent of what is needed to meet the minimum humanitarian needs in northern Uganda has been donated, he added.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Ugandan government supported the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Army in its battle with the Sudanese government in Khartoum. Sudan’s government, in return, backed the Lord’s Resistance Army, a cult-like group that has little contact with the outside world.

Sudan and Uganda normalized relations in 2001 and Ugandan troops have been allowed to operate in some parts of southern Sudan, but reports persist of senior Sudanese officials protecting Joseph Kony, the Ugandan rebel leader, as recently as last month.

Most observers agree that until Kony, who claims to be the messiah, surrenders, dies or is captured, the war in Uganda will continue.

While diplomats have focused on ending the fighting in Darfur in western Sudan, little is being said about the wars in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, which are both also linked to the Sudanese government, McNamara said.

“We can’t be politically selective if we want to have a solution when the causes are inter-linked,” he said. “If we stabilize one part, and not the other, the un-stabilized bit may destabilize the stabilized bit.”

That seems to be happening in southern Sudan, where the southern rebels appeared to be within weeks of reaching a final peace agreement with the northern-based government and ending 21 years of civil war. Since the crisis escalated in Darfur, the southern peace talks have broken down.

The rebels, who have been fighting for greater autonomy from the north, said last week that government negotiators had unofficially told them the peace talks would not resume until the Darfur crisis was solved.

The southern war has left more than 2.5 million people dead, mostly from hunger and disease, and has driven more than four million people from their homes.

The United Nations has appealed for $153 million US, but has received only $17 million in donations, said Ben Parker, spokesman for the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan.

He said most of the funds have been withheld in anticipation of a final peace deal, but that donor spending on Darfur has also had an impact.

Geographically, the three wars are also inter-linked. The fighting in Darfur is within 500 kilometres of southern rebel bases and the Ugandan rebels are based in mountains located between Sudanese rebel and government forces.

The Darfur rebels started their offensive just as the southern talks were bearing fruit, a fact that few observers think is an accident. The southern rebels had won important concessions from the government, which are very similar to what the western rebels demand for Darfur.

In the meantime, more than six million people live in squalor under plastic sheets, crammed into camps without basic security. But while Darfur gets headlines, the chronic problems in Sudan and northern Uganda are overlooked.

“It’s one of these typical, lingering, painful, nasty conflicts (the donors) are fed up with, to be honest,” McNamara said. “But the people on the ground are suffering, they are paying a very high price.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 6, 2004.
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