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International Community Struggles To Prevent Another Darfur


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Coming up, the Worldwide Web has revolutionized the flow of information and it's also made it easier than ever to take on a new identity of sorts. But it's not as easy to stay incognito as we've discovered in recent days when not one but two popular bloggers who had portrayed themselves as lesbians turned out to be straight white men. We'll talk about what drives people to want to be someone else on the Web. That conversation is coming up.

But first, to Sudan where fears of another genocide like that in the Darfur region has sent the U.S., the African Union, and the United Nations into a frenzy of negotiations. Just to recap, in January, South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to separate from the North after years of civil war and complaints about entrenched ethnic discrimination.

The official division of north and south is supposed to happen in less than three weeks. But in the meantime, there are reports of rampant atrocities by the Sudanese Army in Central Sudan.

New York Times reports on, quote, "an unsparing rampage" by the army and allied militias, including the bombing of thatched-roof villages, executions of elders, and burning churches.

Yesterday, leaders from the North and South signed an agreement to withdraw all military forces from the border region of Abyei. Thousands of people have reportedly already fled to overburdened refugee camps in the south. And today, the African Union with former South African President Thabo Mbeki are also scheduled to begin to address violence in another border area.

We're going to hear from the U.S. special envoy to Sudan in just a minute, but we've called the New York Times East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman. He's with us now on the line from Nairobi, Kenya. Jeffrey, thanks for joining us.

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Do I have it right that there are actually two hot spots that we're concerned about right now?

GETTLEMAN: Exactly. It gets very complicated because this isn't directly related all of it to the division of South Sudan from North Sudan. But here's the situation, there is an area called Abyei, which had always been a high-bred community between North and South Sudan.

And as the South prepares to separate, the question is what happens to Abyei? Does it go to the North or does it go the South? It was supposed to have a referendum, where the people would decide that and then got delayed and then ultimately shelved because nobody could agree on who could vote.

And then all of a sudden in May, the northern Sudanese army came into Abyei with a bunch of tanks, thousands of troops, artillery, and seized it, pushed out any of the southern military and claimed it as their own and that was a real worrisome development because everybody thought, oh, my God, maybe there's going to be a war between the North and the South over Abyei. That looks like it's calming down.

The other issue now, though, which is actually escalating is this other area called the Nuba Mountains, which is in North Sudan but it has a rebel group there that's aligned with the South. And over the last two weeks, there's been intense fighting between these rebels against the Sudanese government.

MARTIN: You'd mentioned at the onset, is this related to the succession issue?

GETTLEMAN: Yes and no. The Abyei issue is definitely related to succession, because there's this question of whether Abyei goes to the North or South. And that's been on the table for years, and there's been no resolution. And as succession draws closer, there's been more and more tension in Abyei about what's going to happen.

The Nuba Mountain is sort of interesting. There was an intense civil war there in the 1980s and 1990s. The Nuba people felt discriminated against by the northern government. And when you talk to them, it sounds a lot like what happened in Darfur.

They felt like they were being marginalized. They wanted to stand up and get their rights and the government responded with brutal counterinsurgency tactics, like burning down villages, incarcerating people, killing civilians. So, there's a long history in the Nuba Mountains of this type of rebellion.

It's kicked off again in recent weeks because there's a lot of military build up in the border area between North and South Sudan and there's a lot of unresolved issues that are coming to the surface because of the succession of the South.

MARTIN: Can you please talk to me just in the minute or so that we have left about the negotiations that are going on to try to mediate this crisis. We do understand that former South African President Thabo Mbeki is involved. They seem to be making some headway.

GETTLEMAN: Yeah, there's a lot of issues on the table. They're trying to negotiate Abyei with - yesterday they announced they had a preliminary agreement, which would calm things down and bring in Ethiopian peacekeepers. That was seen as something that would ease tension.

They're also trying to strike a deal with the Nuban rebel forces, which isn't directly related to the South, that's a separate group of people. And then finally, they have to negotiate over how much oil North Sudan is going to get from the south after succession. They have to talk about debt and currency and citizenship.

So there's just a ton of issues right now that are being discussed. There's a lot of mistrust, but the two sides are still talking and that's seen as a good sign.

MARTIN: Jeffrey Gettleman is the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. He joins us on the phone from Nairobi, Kenya. Jeffrey Gettleman, thanks for joining us.

GETTLEMAN: I'm glad to help. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.