Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Imperialist Interests at Root of Conflict Between Chad and Sudan

Imperialist Interests at Root of Conflict Between Chad and Sudan

Rebel attacks in eastern Chad and western Sudan masks French and US efforts to dominate region

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

A recent flare-up in tensions between the African states of Chad and Sudan has brought to light the continuing efforts of France and the United States to dominate the political and economic future of north and central regions of the continent. A rebel effort in Chad to attack the capital and overturn the government of Idriss Deby Itno was reportedly defeated after the government in N'djamena used air power to halt the advancing armed opposition forces.

Chad's government, which is backed by France, immediately blamed Sudan for providing a rear-base and material support for the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) who claimed responsibility for the attacks inside the country. The UFR is an alliance of Chadian opposition groups led by Timan Erdimi.

A French military source based in Chad, where over one thousand of the European nation's troops are stationed to protect the government, claims that the rebels were defeated decisively. "The Chadian army showed itself to be very organized, it was worthy of a modern army," the French military spokesperson stated. (South African Mercury, May 11)

However, the UFR has stated that "We are regrouping, we are taking care of the wounded. The situation is calm, but you will see, it will pick up again." (South African Mercury, May 11) The Chadian government claims that 226 rebels and 22 government soldiers were killed in the recent fighting.

Conversely Sudan dismissed the accusations that its government was behind the attacks and accused the Chadian regime of supporting the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the rebel groups fighting in Darfur against the governmental forces of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

On May 10 Sudan's defense ministry stated that it was ready to repel any attack against the country. According to the Sudanese News Agency "National Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein has affirmed the readiness of the armed forces to repel any agression on Sudanese lands, pointing to the movements of JEM on the north western border with support from the Chadian government." (SUNA, May 10, 2009)

Hussein made these remarks from El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. The Defense Minister was in the region to monitor developments in the fighting between the supporters of Minni Arcua Minnawi, a former rebel leader in Darfur who signed a peace agreement with the central government in 2006 and forces within the JEM.

Minnawi heads a breakaway faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and was appointed as a presidential assistant after the peace deal with the government in Khartoum in 2006. This fighting comes on the heels of an agreement signed between the governments in Chad and Sudan the week before in Doha. The two states had resumed diplomatic ties in November 2008 after an earlier rupture in May.

Chadian President Deby threatened again to break off relations with Sudan on May 9. "The government must reevaluate relations between Sudan and Chad, and envisages--if the situation does not evolve positively--the rupture of these relations," he said in an address at the presidential palace in N'djamena.

However, a Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ali Al-Sadig has said that the government's ambassador in Chad had not received any notification that N'djamena intends to close schools and cultural centers.

France Behind Security Council Session

Chad made a special request for a United Nations Security Council session on May 8 to discuss purported Sudanese aggression. During the session, allies of Sudan defeated attempts by France to pass a resolution "seeking accountability of Sudan for recent incidents in Chad, alleging that the Chadian opposition that led the offensive against Deby's regime came from Sudan." (Sudan Vision, May 10)

The Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Halim Abdelmahmoud, disputed the charges made by Chad that Khartoum is backing the UFR rebels and that the problems in Chad are internal. "We have nothing to do with that," Abdelmahmoud said. "This is a Chadian problem. It should be dealt with inside Chad by the Chadians.

The Sudanese ambassador accused the former Chadian colonizer France of being the author of the N'djamena request for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. Nonetheless, the Security Council on May 8 issued a statement that condemned "renewed military excursions" by "Chadian armed groups coming from outside." (Sudan Vision, May 10)

The African Union's Peace and Security Council on May 8 "firmly condemned" the rebel attacks inside Chad. AU Peace and Security Commissioner, Ramtane Lamara, told journalists at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that "We issued a very strong condemnation of the attacks taking place in Chad since the 4th of May. We deeply regret the loss of lives. The PSC is reiterating its condemnation of all kinds of anti-constitutional change of government and acts of destabilisation." ( News 24, South Africa, May 8)

US, Israel, Oil and the ICC

Since the issuing of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir the approach of the United States has been two-pronged. The Obama administration has appointed a special envoy J. Scott Gration to the country to engage Khartoum in diplomatic efforts while at the same time escalating media attacks against the government accusing the leadership of genocide in the Darfur region.

Both Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama characterized the expulsion of a number of western-based aid agencies as unacceptable in light of the humanitarian situation in the western region of the country. The government has said that it will accept material assistance from the affected agencies but that any aid must be turned over to the Sudanese state for distribution.

Even though the U.S.-based Save Darfur campaign has accused the Sudanese government of genocide as the basis for the demand for greater western military intervention in the region, various international bodies have not made this claim. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the paper points out that there is no evidence that genocide is the official policy of the government in Khartoum.

In the article by Edmund Sanders, he states that "In the United States, many see the six-year war in Darfur as a bloody campaign by a Sudanese Arab-dominated government against rebellious 'African' tribes in western Sudan. Two consecutive American presidents and several activist groups have defined it as genocide."

Sanders goes on to say "But others, while acknowledging the severity of the violence, question whether it meets the legal definition of genocide. The United Nations determined in 2005 that the Sudanese government wasn't committing genocide in Darfur, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders avoid the G-word too."

Although the legal campaign against the Sudanese leader has been utilized to further destabilization efforts aimed at the government, "The International Criminal Court renewed the debate in March when it issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Judges said his counterinsurgency tactics in Darfur may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but that there was no evidence of genocide." (LA Times, May 4, 2009)

Both Sudan and Chad are oil-producing states which also contain other strategic minerals that are important in the western capitalist system. Chad, with a population of 11.1 million, became a major player in the global oil industry when a $4bn pipeline linking its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast opened up in 2003. The country which is largely semi-arid also produces gold and uranium.

Sudan, with a population of 40 million, is also major supplier of oil in the international market. Most of the concessions for oil exploration are controlled by the People's Republic of China and other Middle Eastern and Asian states. Oil production was projected to reach approximately one million barrels per day by the end of 2008. The estimated oil reserves inside the country have been projected to total at least 5 billion barrels.

The French, who have some drilling rights in Sudan, are very much interested in gaining greater access. The U.S. has been excluded from the oil concessions in Sudan, and as a result, the diplomatic relations between the two states have become strained over the last few years.

In recent months there have been allegations of Sudanese involvement in the shipment of arms from Iran to the Hamas government in Gaza. A report in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper on April 27 stated that "An Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area, the Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa reported on Sunday."

The article continues by saying that "Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock on Sudan before transferring its load for shipment to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. These sources said they suspects U.S. or Israeli involvement in the attack, but neither Washington nor Jerusalem have released a statement yet on the matter."

At the same "The Israel Air Force, meanwhile, is suspected of attacking a convoy of Iranian arms that passed through Sudan en route to Gaza in January, according to reports released in March. American officials confirmed the IAF involvement in that attack, The New York Times later reported, and said they had received intelligence reports that Iranian Revolutionary Guards had gone to Sudan to help organize the weapons convoy said the report."

Consequently, the recent conflicts and strained diplomatic relations between Sudan and Chad must be viewed within this broader context. Both the U.S. and France are seeking to enhance their influence in the region.

Anti-imperialists in the United States must recognize the material and political sources of these conflicts and uphold the right of self-determination for both the people of Sudan and Chad. Imperialist intervention in these geo-political areas will only further the underdevelopment of the people.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has been following the situations in both Sudan and Chad for the last several months.

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