WASHINGTON – Showing pictures and videos of underfed babies,burned villages and disease-infested refugee camps,two members of Congress said Tuesday the international community has a “narrow window” to stop “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”
During a three-day trip to war-torn Darfur last week,Sen. Sam Brownback,R-Kan.,and Rep. Frank Wolf,R-Va.,visited five refugee camps and walked through villages destroyed by the Arab militiamen known as Janjaweed,or “wild men on horses with G-3 guns,” according to a statement they issued.
“What Frank and I saw was absolutely horrific,” Brownback said at a news conference,referring to the ongoing fighting and the estimated 300,000 Darfuris refugees expected to die from malnutrition and related diseases that plague packed,tent cities. “It's ethnic cleansing.”
They listed recommendations for ending the situation for the government of Sudan,the African Union,the United States and the United Nations. They asked that the United States seek an official investigation of Sudanese government officials and urged the United Nations to pass a resolution to disarm the Janjaweed and send in U.N. security forces.
As they traveled,a staff member with a digital camera recorded images from a battleground where an estimated 30,000 black African Muslims have died and more than 1 million have fled as a result of years of attacks by nomad tribes such as the Janjaweed.
The death toll could reach 1 million by next year,according to their statement.
After being raided,villages,reduced to a few latrines,begin to melt into the sandy desert. Only a gusty wind can be heard on the video.
More than 160,000 refugees have migrated to Chad,which borders Sudan's east side. Those forced into the 129 refugee camps scattered in Sudan are safer,but their situation is also of concern.
In Abu Shouk,Sudan,some 40,000 people live under tents built of straw and sticks. Eight to nine people die every day in Abu Shock,which Brownback said is a “five-star” camp.
In more crowded camps,such as in Mornay – the largest,with 70,000 refugees,Brownback said it was hard not to step in human feces. Wolf called the place “a breeding ground for diseases.” They said the government has blocked aid to camps by slowing visa procedures and limiting aid workers' access.
While mothers hold dehydrated babies in their arms,children of the refugees reenact images of the attacks in crayon scribbles. Brownback and Wolf held up several of the drawings – ranging from a man holding a rifle to a plane dropping bombs and dead bodies scattered on the ground. They are part of a psychological exercise at some camps to help children cope with the crisis.
Refugees say the Sudanese government backs Janjaweed's progress. Repeated accounts from witnesses say Sudanese pilots flying Soviet-made planes and helicopters bombard their villages early in the morning in a systematic air strike,Brownback said.
Soon after,the Janjaweed gallop in carrying rifles to finish the job by killing,raping and stealing,Brownback said. Dead bodies and animals are later dumped into wells to poison the water.
The conflict between the Arab nomads and African Muslims intensified in February last year when a group known as the Sudanese Liberation Movement started an uprising against Arab militias calling for an end to years of unequal social,economic and political treatment.
The Sudanese government rejects the claim,blaming the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement for the instability. Sudan's government and the rebels agreed to a cease-fire in April,but the Janjaweed continued fighting.
Sudanese government officials in the town of El Fasher told Brownback and Wolf that there's no link between the government and the Janjaweed. But both are convinced that the Sudanese government,its police and military are not only trying to ignore the problem but also silencing those being persecuted by the Janjaweed.
Brownback said the government inserts spies into refugee camps who bribe refuges to lie. If they reject the offer,they are threatened. Brownback also said a Janjaweed camp was located “within shouting distance” of a group of Sudan officials.
Despite their fear of being caught by spies,four refugee sisters who had been raped by Janjaweed members told Brownback and Wolf about their confrontation. The officials said the women told them that,as they wandered away from the camp to harvest food for the family's donkey,a group of Arab rebels raped them,shouting that the women's skin was too dark and that they were slaves.
Brownback and Wolf applauded the recent visits of Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan,who met with Sudanese officials and gained their approval to allow human rights inspectors into Darfur.
But Wolf said much more needs to be done and that the 300 A.U. soldiers who will join 270 others won't be enough to monitor an area that is roughly the size of Texas.
“We need many,many more,” he said.