Tomo Krizner - Sudan sees UN intervention as an invasion Khartoum is using the threat of an outside enemy that wants to come in and steal their oil
Published: 04 October 2006, Independent
It is barely more than a fortnight since I was released from a prison in Darfur. My experiences, both in the prison and during seven months as a human rights envoy in Sudan, are a warning to all of us that the people of Darfur can easily be indoctrinated and turned against the international community.
The media in Sudan are telling them that the United Nations is controlled by the US. The leaders in Khartoum, who oppose international intervention, are exploiting this anti-Americanism to stay in power and continue the destruction of Darfur, to continue to push the African population out of the region.
I saw in prison how people changed from having sympathy and empathy for me to being suspicious and hostile and believing that I was a spy. These people are being readied to go and fight against the UN. I won't forget what I saw for seven months. The fighting, the dying, the villages destroyed.
The UN must come, but only as far as the border with Chad. They need to start a radio station broadcasting across the border to give people access to information on what is really going on. At the moment, the Sudanese government has total control over all information in the country. Only the rich have access to independent media, through the internet, and they are, broadly speaking, either supporters of the present government or people preparing to leave the country.
I have been to Sudan nine times, and each time I have seen the same pattern. The government is using its own Jihadist brand of Islam to keep the people in submission. They are using the threat of an outside enemy - the international community, primarily the US - that wants to come in and take their natural resources, steal their oil.
The Chief of Security in Sudan told me himself that he fears the US will come. They have managed to make people believe that even the NGOs are evil, that they are spies preparing the ground for a UN invasion of the country. The women, children, the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable are exposed. There is nothing to stop them being destroyed. The people of the Jebel Marra, the Fur, indigenous Africans who follow a Sufi school of Islam are the most endangered.
At the moment, they have convinced the people in Darfur that a UN force coming in across the border from Chad would be an invasion force. They have persuaded people that they must rise up and fight this invasion. In the prison where I was held there are 550 inmates, convicted of violent crimes such as murder. These prisoners are in chains and waiting to be executed, but they have been told they will be given guns and released to go and fight the UN. These men come from the Janjaweed, the rebel groups of Minni Minawi, fighters loyal to Abdelwahid Elnur. They are a cross-section of all the armed groups in Darfur and they have been indoctrinated. Something must be done. There must be UN intervention and it must go now, today. But it must be a mission that is planned with an awareness of what I have experienced as the only foreigner in this part of Darfur - along with two American reporters.
The UN has got to counteract the propaganda that Khartoum is using against international intervention. Right now, even the prisoners, held by the government are ready to fight against the UN.
UN peacekeepers must settle on the border with Chad, with the support of the government there. More independent witnesses, reporters, activists and NGOs must go into the areas where the civilians are. And, if necessary, act as a human shield.
The Janjaweed and other groups committing atrocities have spies everywhere. When I was there they would hear where I was. They learnt that I had a camera and thought it would record their faces and send the pictures which would then appear on the BBC that night. These are proud people, they don't want to be filmed cutting babies out of mother's wombs and playing with the foetuses in front of them.
The camera can be more powerful a defence than the gun in these situations. We need to find a way to train local reporters to challenge the government monopoly on information, and get them the technical gear to get their own pictures out to tell the world and the people of Darfur what is actually happening.
I know about genocides. My father spent four years in Dachau. There are no crematoria in Darfur, but there are mass graves. I have seen documentary evidence of them. I have seen government orders instructing troops to kill anyone - including UN personnel - attempting to dig near any of these graves.
The African Union is not motivated. Culturally they don't identify with the Muslim population in the region. They have little sympathy for Darfurians. And, ultimately, they are controlled by the government in Khartoum. When they receive reports of Janjaweed attacks they wait for days before investigating.
We need to act now, but we need to do so with awareness of what is going on and how people have been indoctrinated. We need to invent new ways of intervening to stop simply adding to the violence. We must consider the lessons learnt from Somalia, Rwanda, Congo, Bosnia, Srebrenica.
The author is a Slovenian writer and photographer, arrested while visiting Sudan as an official envoy of the Slovenian government.