The Sudanese government has over the years been under strong pressure from western countries and international organisations, led by the US, to concede to rebel groups (which are predominantly Christian) the right to secede from the mainly Muslim north. But although that pressure has succeeded to the extent of securing for Southern Sudan– represented by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by John Garang– the right to secede after a referendum to be held at the end of a six-year transition period, those countries and organisations have stepped up their efforts to break up Africa’s largest country by demanding military intervention by the ‘international community’ to forestall what they have over-dramatised as ‘ethnic cleansing’. The fact that those leading the call for intervention are the very ones who thwarted all attempts to prevent the Rwandan genocide (1994) shows that they do not really care about the lives of Africans, and are really pursuing interests of their own.
It was not surprising that Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, was the first to call for military intervention in the western region of Darfur to prevent ‘Arab militias’, supported by Khartoum, from wiping out Africans. Annan, who regularly backs US positions on international issues, said in Geneva on April 7 that "the international community cannot stand idle" since "the risk of genocide remains frighteningly real." And although Khartoum had already invited aid agencies to visit Darfur, Annan felt it necessary to threaten: "They need to get to the victims," he said. "If that is denied the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action. By action I mean a continuum of steps which may include military action."
Annan spoke soon after an appeal by two rebel groups from Darfur for outside military help. They accused the government of arming militias to loot and burn African villages in Darfur. The speed with which the UN secretary general responded to their appeal – even before taking up Khartoum’s invitation to send humanitarian and human rights groups into Darfur – was irresponsible, and capable of leading to the clashes that do not exist to the extent he claims they do. The hypocrisy of his position was indicated immediately he made his statement on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and expressed regret for his failure to prevent it. At the time he was head of the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, and his present statement can be dismissed at best as a weak attempt to show that he abhors genocide.
It was not, therefore, surprising that the Sudanese government immediately rejected any outside military help, but welcomed any offers of aid for the region. "We don’t think we need outside military help and we do our best according to the available resources," Mustafa Osman Ismail, Sudan’s foreign minister, said in Khartoum. "All that we want from the international community is that it helps us with more supplies of humanitarian aid so that we can try and help those in need." The government quite rightly refuses international involvement in Darfur, on the grounds that it is just local tribal strife.
But it is not only the UN secretary general who is calling for military intervention, with EU military officials encouraged by his stand now proposing similar solutions to the strife. General Gustav Hagglund, the EU’s top military official, said in a newspaper interview on April 13 that EU-led forces could intervene in Sudan to stop "the killings and rapine in Darfur by Arab militias." In an interview with the Financial Times the general said that the possibility of the EU sending a force to the Sudan had been raised by Louise Frechette, the UN deputy secretary general. "There is no reason why the EU could not go to, for instance, Sudan, I see it to be very possible. It would be mandated by the UN. It is part of the battleground concept," he said.
When Hagglund was appointed military chief three years ago the EU had only a fledgling intervention force; the concept of "battle groups" has since been developed by Britain and the US to make a bigger force. France wants the EU to compete with the US, and Britain wants the EU to be able to intervene in proportion to Europe’s economic and military power. Since then the EU has taken over a small NATO-led mission in Macedonia, deployed a 1,500-strong military force to Bunia (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) last summer, and this year is set to take over the mission in Bosnia from NATO. The Europrean mission to Congo last year was the the EU’s first military intervention outside Europe.
It is not surprising that the next African destination for the new EU taskforce is a Muslim country that is accused of encouraging the establishment of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and of being involved in ‘terrorist practices’. The ‘war against terrorism’ that the US and the EU support is plainly against Muslims. Sudan is a large country with oil and agricultural resources, fully controlled by Muslims, and could possibly become an African superpower– a prospect that neither the US nor the EU can like. And the best way to discourage that prospect from becoming a reality is to transform the country into tribal enclaves. The peace negotiations between Khartoum and the various rebel groups are designed to bring about the division of Sudan into those enclaves. In addition to the talks with the SPLM about power- and wealth-sharing, there are also negotiations going on about the future of three central regions: the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile and Abyei. Talks are also being held between representatives of the government and the Darfur rebels.
If the US pressure and the threat of military intervention fail to intimidate Khartoum, then the military option becomes very relevant. The EU force is too small to intervene by itself, but the UN’s support for military intervention has made this option more respectable and easier for the UN to organise. The Christian die-hards in Washington, who have great weight with president Bush, will certainly seek a military solution if Sudan does not submit to their demands. Khartoum has reacted strongly to the military threats and may resist political demands as well.
For the time being, the military threats appear to be designed to secure a political surrender. But the military possibility cannot be ruled out, particularly when Arab and other Muslim countries are unlikely to come to Sudan’s aid.