The fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, which is being reported in the world press as 'ethnic cleansing' and a 'humanitarian crisis', reportedly stems from attempts to gain control over the oil resources in the region, claim Arab sources.
These Arab sources find it interesting that such skirmishes occurred when a peace agreement that would have brought an end to 21 years of north-south conflict was about to be signed. The sources point out that oil fields have recently been discovered in Darfur.
So far at least 10,000 people have lost their lives as a result of the fighting between Arab residents and locals in Darfur, while over a million have fled their homes.
The Sudanese government claims that there is a serious humanitarian crisis in the region. However, the Khartoum administration adds that some countries and groups, primarily Western humanitarian aid foundations and media institutions, are playing up the incidents in an attempt to make Sudan appear unstable and in need of foreign intervention.
The Sudanese government announced yesterday that the African Union would meet in Ethiopia at the end of the month to find a peaceful resolution to the Darfur crisis. Sudan agreed to send more military forces to the region after the visits of US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Khartoum also declared that it would attempt to disarm the Janjaweed since they are believed to be behind the attacks.
In Sudan, Africa's largest country with more than 2.5 million square meters of land, more than 30 armed groups fight against the central administration.
Khartoum reached an agreement with one of these groups, Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA), to end the 21-year long conflict that has caused the deaths of over 2 million people. Issues such as how the authority will be shared and the region's autonomy are being discussed in the peace negotiations taking place in Kenya.
Nearly all of the groups fighting against the Sudanese government are supported by neighboring countries; however, there are reports that some of the groups are supported by Israel, European countries, and the US.
It is claimed that the American administration has given at least 20 million dollars worth of aid to the SPLA and other armed groups allied with this organization. Arab sources point to the involvement of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in the Darfur incidents as the primary piece of evidence that the struggle is based on oil. SLA has close relations with SPLA, led by John Garang, and it is demanding oil form the government. Arab sources indicate that an oil agreement between the Sudanese government and SPLA could make the armed militias stronger.
According to the agreement, the SPLA has a stake in a large portion of the oil income from the south. It is claimed that significant amount of that money is probably dispersed to the other armed groups. Experts state that a 3 billion dollar project sponsored by Western countries to open the oil in the region to the world markets through the Mombassa Port of Kenya would speed Sudan's disintegration.
Another group involved in the Darfur clashes, the Justice and Equality Movement, is known for its closeness to Hasan Turabi, who is the ideologist of the regime in Sudan.
According to the agreement reached between the SPLA and the government last year, the southern part of the country will be ruled by an autonomous structure and a referendum will be held for independence. These tribes, most of them believing in local religions, will most likely clash with each other if the region were to become independent. However, since some of these tribes are Christians, Western countries -primarily the US- might intervene in the region in order to provide stability.
It is stated that all of the neighboring countries except Egypt have direct relations with the armed groups in Sudan.
Chad, which has close relations with the armed groups in Darfur, favors Sudan's territorial integrity. This is an abrupt shift from the Chad's previous policy.
It is known that Ethiopia is one of the most active countries in the 21-year long north-south war. Reportedly, it had role in conveying the aid from Israel and the US to SPLA. It also reportedly provided logistical support to these groups.
Eritrea is suspected of having supported the Beja separatist movements in the northeastern part of Sudan.
Uganda, which claims that Khartoum supports the God's Resistance Army that fights against the Ugandan administration, is reportedly among the countries that help the opposition groups in Sudan.
Darfur Constitutes Backbone of Sudanese Army
There are more than 80 ethnic/religious groups among the 7 million inhabitants of Darfur. Some groups have kin relationships with neighboring country, Chad.
Chad President Idris Deby is a member of the Zaghawa tribe in Darfur. It is stated that three presidents, who held power in Chad, directed their fights from Darfur.
People in Darfur, many of whom are Muslim, also constitute 50 percent of Sudanese army. However, these people are generally prevented from promoting to higher ranks.