Darfuris feel betrayed by Libya no-fly zone

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 29, 2011 2:36 PM

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - People in Darfur watching how quickly a no-fly zone was imposed on Libya by the United States and its allies said they felt betrayed because U.S. President Barack Obama had broken his promise to protect them in the same way from government attacks.

The government in Khartoum is still defying a U.N. Security Council resolution by bombing rebels in Darfur.

While Darfur was a foreign policy priority for Obama during his election campaign, the festering conflict has fallen into oblivion since his election.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, where the United Nations estimates at least 300,000 people have died in a humanitarian crisis sparked by a brutal counter-insurgency campaign that began in 2003.

A prominent Darfuri leader said a no-fly zone would protect civilians in the isolated region.

"Right now -- forget in the past -- right now what is happening in Darfur is worse than in Libya," said Barouda Sandal of the opposition Popular Congress Party. "The air force is bombing civilians and thousands are fleeing."

Peacekeepers from the joint U.N.-African Union force this week confirmed aerial bombardments in areas they visited and said more than 70,000 people had fled fighting in the past few months alone, swelling miserable camps already housing more than two million people seeking refuge from the fighting.

NO-FLY ZONE

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama backed a no-fly zone in Sudan's west and tougher U.S. sanctions on Khartoum. But once in the White House, his special envoy eased the embargo and promised to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror.

Washington was the first capital to label Darfur's conflict genocide, infuriating Khartoum, which blames Western media for exaggerating a conflict it describes as tribal. It says 10,000 people have died in the violence.

But quick U.S. intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds has provoked debate as to what is the standard for intervention in foreign conflicts.

"The swiftness of the international community's response to Colonel Gaddafi's bloody repression of the Libyan uprising has surprised no one more than the diplomats involved," journalist Rebecca Tinsley wrote in the Huffington Post.

"At the same time it has left survivors of state-sponsored massacres in Darfur, Rwanda ... bewildered by our double standards."

The U.S. embassy in Sudan said Washington remained engaged in Darfur, giving aid and supporting the peacekeeping mission.

"It is not inconsistent for the United States to play different roles in each vital international effort," it said in a written statement.

Many Darfuris believe the quick military intervention in Libya was because of its oil, rather than for humanitarian reasons.

"We are astonished that over a few weeks about 1,000 Libyans have been killed and they went in, but in Darfur they killed hundreds of thousands yet no one comes. And Darfuris are feeling very bad about this," said Ibrahim el-Helu, a commander from the Sudan Liberation Movement, a Darfur rebel group.

"Hundreds of Darfuris are calling me, saying let them come and drill for oil here if it means they will come and protect us too," he said.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)