Scorched Earth in Darfur


This image — the Darfurian town of Abu Surouj, after it was burned to the ground by Sudanese government and proxy militia forces last month — is a sobering reminder that the genocide in Darfur is far from over. The photo accompanies another intrepid piece of reporting by the irreplaceable Lydia Polgreen, who provides stark proof that, in the chilling phrase with which she begins her article, “the janjaweed are back.”

The tale of this town’s — as well as multiple others’ — recent destruction provides a stark rejoinder to those who contend that the active military campaign in Darfur largely ended in 2004. As Polgreen reports, the uncompromising counter-insurgency tactics employed in the early years of the genocide have been resuscitated with little compunction:

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase — one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

These attacks deeply exacerbate the already precarious situation of displaced Darfurians, cutting them off from aid, forcing them still further from their land, and sharply reawakening the fear in which they must constantly live. Sudanese government spokesmen defend their army’s activities as necessary to secure areas from bandits and rebels, unabashedly affirming that “there is nothing abnormal about a government doing this.” While the rebels are also intimately responsible for Darfur’s deteriorating security situation, surely there is little “normal” about a government bombing its own civilians. Both rebels and government forces need to immediately accede to the rapid deployment of UN peacekeepers, for any meaningful peace accord is unsustainable without their active civilian protection.