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Darfur Crisis topic of YVCC speaker

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Amnesty International representative Daniel Johnson speaks about the Darfur Crisis to an audience at the Grandview Senior Center Wednesday night. The forum was sponsored by the Grandview Student Council at YVCC.

GRANDVIEW - The Grandview Student Council at Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC) hosted a forum about the Darfur Crisis, featuring Amnesty International representative Daniel Johnson as the guest speaker Wednesday night.

Due to a large number of attendees' lack of knowledge regarding the Darfur Crisis, Johnson's primary focus was background information to educate those who were present.

"The more you learn, the easier it becomes with situations such as the Darfur Crisis," said Johnson.

He explained that Darfur is a region of Sudan, one of the largest countries in Northeast Africa. Darfur is the westernmost region of Sudan and the terrain is primarily desert.

Conflict in Darfur, according to Johnson, began after a large war known as "The Big War" subsided in the southern region of Sudan in 2003.

The Sudan Liberation Army attacked the Sudanese Army in the beginning of the conflict, according to Johnson. And, aggressive nomadic tribes began to become an issue because of the inability to protect villages from their attacks. Other armed groups joined in the fighting, attacking the villages with demands similar to those of the nomadic tribes and Sudan Liberation Army.

"The insurgency developed into a brutal eradication effort with a lot of terrorism, destruction of whole villages, contaminated wells as a result of animals being thrown into them and the destruction of food," said Johnson.

Villages would come under aerial attack via helicopters, which were armed with bombs. Following the aerial attack, ground attacks would take place. The bombs and firearms, according to Johnson, were not targeted at structures but at people.

"The result of the destruction became uninhabitable areas in Darfur and 'Internally Displaced Persons' (IDPs) or refugees," he continued.

The IDPs would flee to camps provided by peacekeeping organizations such as Amnesty International, according to Johnson.

Villages as large as 20,000 in population would then be bulldozed. "And the government sanctions this," commented Johnson.

He said the Sudanese government combined efforts with militias such as the Janjaweed Militia during the insurgency. The government provides weaponry and bulldozers to the militias because they believe in eradicating civilians who are not Arab and any possible rebels who might live among them.

The IDP camps also come under attack and civilians who have been at the camp are forced to find another IDP camp because of this.

"A camp might hold several thousand civilians and when they go to another camp with thousands of civilians, the second camp is overwhelmed. This creates a shortage in food and water supplies," said Johnson.

Though the IDP camps are a major target, Johnson said the aid organizations are allowed to provide some protection to the camps. They are allowed to stem any attacks on the camp itself.

But, if a civilian leaves the camp for wood or supplies, they are vulnerable. The men are often mutilated and killed if they leave the camp. "The women are beaten and raped. But, they are often the ones sent out of the camps because they come back alive," Johnson stated.

What global efforts have been made to end the conflict?

Four international entities have become involved...the United Nations (UN), NATO, the African Union (AU) and the United States. According to Johnson, efforts have been made for a cease fire. But, the Sudanese government stalled and the leader of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army signed a cease fire agreement. He was targeted for assassination as a result.

Johnson said current UN efforts are to supplement the AU with approximately 100 workers.

The UN also passed Security Council Resolution #1706. Unfortunately, China stipulated (Sudanese) government consent must be obtained before the UN forces could enter Darfur. "This," according to Johnson, "prevented intervention."

The government of Sudan continues stalling tactics when agreements are made and come close to implementation, calling the UN's efforts "Western imperialist nations intervening with a sovereign nation."

The International Criminal Court has indicted one government official and one rebel leader. The government official is currently on trial. But, according to Johnson, Amnesty International believes he will be acquitted.

"This is more evidence that the Darfur Conflict is egregious," said Johnson.

He said the U.S. plans sanctions and economic punishment of Sudan. Those efforts were averted by the President of Sudan when he met with UN head Cofe Anan. But, stalling tactics were again used when the agreement to implement hybrid forces was close to its deadline.

Johnson encouraged the audience to become involved by spreading awareness. He also said to contact legislative representatives and senators, letting them know it is a concern. "Tell them you want them to pressure China," he said, citing China is one of the strongest trade partners for Sudan.

"Have your legislator co-sponsor bills that support peacekeeping efforts and sign the 'Dear Colleague' letters that are being sent out," stated Johnson.

Johnson presented the audience with contact numbers to conclude his speech.

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