The Magazine

THE WORLD'S MOST BRUTAL, LEAST-KNOWN WAR

Jun 28, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 39 • By DAVID AIKMAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

How far can Washington be pushed? The current sanctions regime has a convenient loophole for the purchase of gum arabic from Sudan, apparently an essential ingredient in some soft drinks and candy. Payne would like to end this exemption. Before ethnic cleansing and slavery and support for international terrorism can end in Sudan, the congressman believes, the Khartoum regime itself must come down.


Non-governmental organizations concentrate simply on ending the war. World Vision and other groups support strengthening the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an African committee formed in 1993. Consisting of representatives of Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda, IGAD has held several rounds of talks between representatives of the SPLA and the NIF regime. The NIF has agreed, in theory, to self-determination for southern Sudan, but no one's holding his breath.


In 1992 the NIF formally declared a jihad, or holy war, against the inhabitants of the Nuba mountains in central southern Sudan. Access to the mountains is denied by the Khartoum regime, even for U.N. agencies, but human rights workers say there is clear evidence that genocide is being carried out there. More recently, the NIF's top ideologist, Hassan al-Turabi, said flatly that Khartoum urgently needs revenue from the south's oil wells. Furthermore, the regime has developed a cooperative venture in Bentiu with Talisman Inc. of Canada, Petronas of Indonesia, and a third, Chinese, corporation. According to Western diplomats and U.N. officials, Beijing's role in the Bentiu venture includes bringing Chinese prison laborers, or victims of the Laogai, into Sudan in order to have the pipeline up and running this summer.


"Believe me," says the senior SPLA military officer in Yei, Commander Geir, "there is nothing to be achieved in the peace talks. The government is saying that it can finish the war because it has oil. We are prepared to fight another 30 years." Adds Commander Deng, another top SPLA leader in Yei, "If we can overthrow the government of Sudan, we know the war will end."


That happy eventuality, however, doesn't seem imminent. The NIF has proven deft at exploiting weakness in the alliance the SPLA has tried to cobble together with the Democratic People's Alliance, a group of northern Arabs who came together shortly after the coup of 1989. Bickering within the SPLA has also bedeviled efforts at a united front. Washington, moreover, squandered whatever leverage it might have had with the NIF after its August 1998 cruise missile attack on a Khartoum factory.


And yet, there is much the United States can do: provide weapons that the SPLA can use against the Antonovs; try to dissuade the Canadians and the Chinese from developing Sudan's oil resources; and raise international awareness of how wicked the Khartoum regime really is. Sudan's neighbors have already noticed. The NIF has shown a ready tendency to conspire against them, and it is seeking to spread Islamist radicalism throughout Africa. Sudan is a place where simple actions by the United States could significantly help defend the weak against the strong and the forces of democracy against tyrants.




David Aikman is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former senior foreign correspondent for Time magazine.