Arming Khartoum: China’s Complicity in the Darfur Genocide

By Eric Reeves

October 18, 2010 (SSNA) — On July 8, 2008, at approximately 2:45pm local time, heavily armed Janjaweed militia attacked a joint police and military patrol of the UN/African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNAMID). The point of assault was approximately 60 miles southeast of el-Fasher, near the village of Umm Hakibah (North Darfur). In a firefight that lasted approximately three hours, seven UNAMID troops and police were killed and twenty-two were injured, seven of them critically. Ten vehicles were destroyed or taken during the attack. Shortly after the assault, then-UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guéhenno offered a compelling briefing to the UN Security Council in closed session, making clear that those responsible were indeed Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia forces.

Guéhenno told the Security Council that the attack on UN-authorized peacekeepers “took place in an area under Sudanese government control and that some of the assailants were dressed in clothing similar to Sudanese army uniforms. He also said the ambush was ‘pre-meditated and well-organized’ and was intended to inflict casualties rather than to steal equipment or vehicles.” The peacekeepers attacked reported seeing approximately 200 fighters, many on horses—a signature feature of the Janjaweed (Arabic for “devil [or spirit] on horseback”).

Guéhenno declared that the ambush was designed “to inflict casualties” and was carried out with “equipment usually not used by (rebel) militias.” Separately and confidentially, a UN official went further in confirming to me that some of the arms used, including large-caliber recoilless rifles, had never been seen in the arsenals of the rebel groups. This official said that Guéhenno, who would soon retire, had rarely been so explicit in assigning responsibility for attacks in Darfur.

The weaponry and ammunition in this and many other subsequent attacks on the UN peacekeeping force were in all likelihood manufactured in China and imported into Darfur by Khartoum’s armed forces—in direct violation of a UN Security Council embargo on all such movement of arms or ammunition. This is confirmed in a new, unpublished report from the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, created by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). According to the Washington Post, the UN panel reports “finding recently manufactured shell casings from Chinese ammunition at the site of numerous attacks launched by unidentified assailants against peacekeepers from the joint UN-Union Mission.” This finding clearly implicates Khartoum and its proxies in the attacks on peacekeepers.

As the Post’s Colum Lynch also reports from the UN, China’s response to the report has been “a strenuous diplomatic campaign to block publication.” For the Chinese are well aware of what the report will contain: “at a briefing this month, a UN panel responsible for implementing the [arms] embargo told the Security Council that Sudanese forces have used more than a dozen types of Chinese ammunition against Darfurian rebels over the past two years.” China’s angry response to these factual findings, by an independent UN investigating body, has been to insist that it will “block the public release of the report unless the findings were rewritten.” Chinese UN diplomat Yang Tao urged “the panel of experts to conduct its work under the principles of objectivity and responsibility.” Given the meticulous and comprehensive nature of previous reports from the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, all fully in the public domain, this demand is preposterous. It reflects nothing more than Chinese embarrassment and anger at being so fully caught out in violating an arms embargo adopted by the Security Council. It also explains why China alone on the Security Council did not vote to renew the mandate of the UN panel.

This mandate obliges the panel not only to monitor the arms embargo on Darfur, but to “make recommendations to the [UN Security Council’s Darfur Sanctions Committee] on actions the Security Council may want to consider,” and to identify parties who “impede the peace process” in Darfur; who “constitute a threat to stability in Darfur and the region”; and “who commit violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law.” Perhaps most importantly, the panel is charged with assigning “responsibil[ity] for offensive military overflights” in Darfur—which are categorically prohibited by Resolution 1591.

And yet despite this mandate, the Security Council has refused to act in any meaningful way, largely because of Chinese obstructionism and a disgracefully acquiescent Western response. The UN Security Council Darfur Sanctions Committee has ceased to function; it considers neither names, nor actions, nor reforms. Indeed, Lynch reports that the former head of the Panel of Experts, Enrico Carisch, “testified before Congress that the Security Council had failed to act on more than 100 panel recommendations aimed at strengthening sanctions.” There are now almost daily reports of aerial military assaults by Khartoum (which alone among the combatants in Darfur has air assets) on civilian targets, especially in the Jebel Marra region. Every such flight is a violation of Resolution 1591, and yet the Security Council does nothing.

The list of violations of both the arms embargo and the military flight ban is exceedingly long and yet is still only partial. For the UN panel has frequently during the past year been obstructed by Khartoum in its efforts to investigate within Darfur, a brazen defiance of the world body that is consistently underwritten by China. Indeed, this year the panel has been denied virtually all access to conflict zones, and thus is unable to fulfill its mandate in anything like appropriate fashion. But even the details of the currently blocked report are damning, and implicate not only China, but Russia and Belarus (Ukraine, Iran, and European countries are also responsible, providing not only weapons, but financing purchases, and creating trading networks that obscure points of origin and end destinations).

The panel reports that all 18 samples of ammunition found in Darfur—twelve of which are Chinese in origin—were manufactured after the imposition of the arms embargo five and a half years ago. Among the 36 Russian helicopters that have been recently delivered there are four Mi-17s and 32 extremely potent Mi-24 helicopter gunships, which have been used to deadly effect throughout Darfur. Of the fifteen Sukhoi fighter jets purchased from Belarus in 2008, eight have been sighted in Darfur. There have been numerous sightings in Darfur—even photographs—of Russian MiG-29’s, another extremely potent offensive military aircraft.

How do Khartoum and its militia allies make use of these illegally imported weapons and ammunition? In addition to killing UN peacekeepers (there have been at least 27 such deaths), the weaponry has been conspicuously in evidence during ground and aerial assaults on civilians in the Jebel Marra region. Jebel Marra is the heart of the Fur homeland (the Fur are the largest African ethnic group in Darfur), and remains under the tenuous—and shrinking—military control of the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid el-Nur. Citing civilian and rebel sources on the ground, Radio Dabanga is performing the reporting tasks that should be the responsibility of the UN Panel of Experts and UNAMID, which futilely await permission from Khartoum to investigate. On September 28, 2010 Radio Dabanga reported that “57 people were killed and 25 others wound during an offensive by the Sudanese government in central Darfur…. [S]ix entire villages were burnt in Eastern Jebel Marra by intensive aerial bombardment by government aircraft that were supporting ground troops in the region.”

The total destruction of one of these villages, Soro, was inadvertently confirmed in an internal report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Through an oversight, the report was obtained by a reporter traveling with the recent UN Security Council delegation to Uganda, Southern Sudan, Darfur, and Khartoum; it declares, echoing Radio Dabanga, that Soro “was completely burned down” as part of extensive and “intense ground fighting and aerial attacks in Eastern Jebel Marra.” Soro was the site of a health clinic previously run by Médecins du Monde, a humanitarian relief organization that was forced out of Jebel Marra by Khartoum’s military offensive in the region earlier this year. More than 5,000 civilians were displaced in this most recent attack, joining many tens of thousands previously displaced this year and now beyond humanitarian reach.

Several days later, Radio Dabanga reported that more villages were burned around Deribat (near Jebel Marra) killing 27 civilians; again, helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers were used. The Sudan Tribune reported that on October 1, Khartoum’s air and ground attack “killed 45 Scholl [sic] children and 55 civilians in Jawa, most them older women and men.” The same dispatch noted that 14 villages had been destroyed by Khartoum’s forces on September 26 – 27. Radio Dabanga reported that Mertuga village, ten miles west of Kass (South Darfur), had also been attacked—killing one, wounding others, and forcing some 240 families to flee.

Perhaps the most chilling of all the reports on Khartoum’s use of imported weapons comes from an October 16, 2010 dispatch from Radio Dabanga:

“Witnesses who spoke to Radio Dabanga described what happened in the area of Bom Boli in East Jebel Marra. They said their region was subjected to a campaign of mass rapes by government forces described as Janjaweed. A witness who managed to escape and access a safe area after marching for days on foot described what happened for the Saturday broadcast. The witness affirmed that all areas and villages destroyed by aircraft in East Jebel Marra had no presence of fighters from the armed movements.”

Even more terrifying was the report of a crude eavesdropping on radio communications between Khartoum’s bombers and ground spotters:

“[The witness] said that displaced women had figured out how to use their radio on low frequencies to listen to talks taking place between captain of the Antonov aircraft and others on the ground to determine which sites [were] to be bombed. She explained that once they select the sites they then shell the villages and populated communities. She related that someone [in one of the aircraft] asked how much the distance was between Java and Suni [both completely destroyed—ER] and then another said to him four kilometers, and then said to him, ‘bomb, bomb this place,’ and those were all areas where there were villages of civilians.”

These attacks follow the savage massacre in the village market of Tabarat on September 2, 2010. Some fifty men and boys were killed, at point blank range, by Janjaweed militia, armed and supplied by Khartoum. A series of interviews with survivors by a Reuters correspondent (September 17, 2010) suggests how extraordinarily brutal the attack was:

“Five survivors of the attack told Reuters that heavily armed Arab militia had targeted male victims and shot many at point blank range.”

“[M]en were rounded up by militia wearing military uniforms who rode into the market on horses and camels pretending to be buying goods before spraying the shops with gunfire. Then vehicles mounted with machine guns and carrying militia fighters appeared and rounded up some of the men, survivors said. ‘They laid them down and they came up close and shot them in their heads,’ Abakr Abdelkarim, 45, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Tawilla, where many of the victims had sought refuge and medical help. ‘(Those killed) were all men and one woman—some men were tied with rope behind the cars and dragged until they died.’”

“[Witnesses] said after the attack they had gone to the joint UN-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping base in Tawilla to ask peacekeepers to come to Tabarat but they refused. ‘They also refused to come and help us recover the bodies,’ [Adam] Saleh added.”

Where else do weapons from China and other countries end up? Many of the Janjaweed have been recycled into various paramilitary forces in Darfur, including the Popular Defense Force, the Border Guards, and the Central Police. These are often the vicious enforcers within the camps for displaced persons, and in the urban areas of Darfur—and have recently been implicated in targeted killings of camp leaders. Khartoum makes sure they are never short of weapons or ammunition.

Despite overwhelming evidence, going back five years, China refuses to take responsibility for the conspicuous violations of the Darfur arms embargo, even as Chinese weapons and ammunition—clearly dated after 2005—have continued to flow steadily into the region. This has been established beyond any doubt. Similarly, the UN Security Council and its Darfur Sanctions Committee have done nothing about Khartoum’s five-year violation of the complete ban on offensive military overflights in Darfur. Sensing that UN diplomatic attention—as well as that of the US, Canada, and the EU—is now focused on the referenda for South Sudan and Abyei, China is brazenly defying multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and doing so by challenging the integrity of an independent UN investigating body—and on no factual basis.

All this works seamlessly with Khartoum’s recently proclaimed “New Strategy for Darfur,” in particular its “security axis,” which provides for unconstrained military action against any and all enemies of security as the regime perceives them. As a recent report from the highly reliable Small Arms Survey (Sudan) notes, the “‘Security Plan for Darfur’ [ ] includes unspecified ‘unilateral action to improve security’ and ‘pressure on rebel groups to accept cessation of hostilities.’” The means for “improving security” will be supplied primarily by China.

China must not be allowed to manhandle evidence and intimidate the Security Council and its representatives on Darfur. The Council should vote immediately to publish the findings of its own Panel of Experts on Darfur, and if China vetoes the move, then it is the obligation of other members of the Council to make the document public—and much more importantly, to act forcefully. Right now, China is nothing short of an accomplice in genocide; it must be held responsible and publicly condemned for its callous, deliberate, and immensely destructive violations of the UN Darfur arms embargo and its failure to acknowledge Khartoum’s relentless flouting of the UN military flight ban.

Eric Reeves is a professor of English at Smith College. He has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. His book on Darfur—A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide—was published in 2007.

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