How much of the Darfur story is overblown?

No one, not even the government of Sudan, questions that there is a civil war in Darfur, or that it has caused an immense number of refugees. Even the government admits that nearly a million people have left for camps outside Darfur's main towns to escape marauding paramilitary groups. That is why the government of Sudan imposed a state of emergency in 1999.

But our media have taken this complex picture and projected on to it a simple morality tale of ethnic cleansing and genocide. They gloss over the fact that the Janjaweed militia come from the same ethnic group and religion as the people they are allegedly persecuting - everyone in Darfur is black, African, Arabic-speaking and Muslim.

The Sudanese defense minister condemned the Janjaweed as "bandits" in a speech to the country's parliament in March. On July 19, moreover, a court in Khartoum sentenced six Janjaweed soldiers to horrible punishments, including the amputation of their hands and legs.

It is far from clear that the sudden media attention devoted to Sudan has been provoked by any real escalation of the crisis -- a peace agreement was signed with the rebels in April, and it is holding. The Sudanese government says that the death toll in Darfur, since the beginning of the conflict in 2003, is not greater than 1,200 on all sides. Why is such attention devoted to Sudan when, in neighboring Congo, the death rate from the war there is estimated to be some 2 or 3 million, a tragedy equaled only by the silence with which it is treated in our media?

The prospect of sending troops into Sudan is especially odd in view of the fact that Darfur has oil. There are huge untapped reserves in both southern Sudan and southern Darfur. We ought, therefore, to treat with scepticism the US Congress declaration of genocide in the region.

[Excerpt of article by John Laughland, The Guardian]

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