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29 July 2004

USAID Official Believes Darfur is Site of Ethnic Cleansing

Relief expert Winter says term is appropriate for situation

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- One of the U.S. government's foremost authorities on humanitarian relief and refugee matters, who has made numerous trips to war-torn Sudan, says he still believes the Khartoum regime is conducting a campaign that amounts to ethnic cleansing in the western province of Darfur.

Roger Winter, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Humanitarian, Democracy and Refugee Affairs, was one of the first U.S. officials to raise a warning flag on Darfur early in 2004 when, after a trip to the region, he termed the Khartoum regime's support of marauding militias a near-genocidal campaign.

Winter is reluctant on legal grounds to specifically call the Darfur crisis genocide. Nevertheless, he told a July 29 news conference at the Foreign Press Center that, after numerous trips to Darfur, he believes the term "ethnic cleansing is appropriate." It is not a "legal word," but "if you are on the ground [in Sudan], ethnic cleansing describes what you will see," he said.

The United Nations now estimates that as many as 30,000 civilians have been murdered, and their villages pillaged by militias called the Jinjaweit. After a recent visit to Sudan, Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted the Khartoum government immediately rein in the Jinjaweit and provide immediate access for emergency relief supplies to Darfur.

The United States has been pressing for immediate action in the United Nations, which passed a resolution in the Security Council July 30 that demands the Sudanese government provide full protection for civilians in the region, grant immediate access to the stricken region and ensure a secure environment for the distribution of relief supplies.

Close to 1.5 million inhabitants of Darfur have been displaced since the crisis exploded at the end of 2003. According to Winter, the attacks on villagers by Jinjaweit horsemen are widespread and targeted.

"It is accompanied with [hostile] actions that seem quite purposely to assure the population does not return." For example, said Winter, as farmers are being displaced "one of the things that is being uniformly targeted by people perpetrating the violence is irrigation systems. What's the point of that -- you can draw your own conclusions."

Noting the destruction is selective, the official said, "You go on the ground, you will find villages in close proximity with one village entirely destroyed and another one over here that is entirely untouched and the ethnicities are different. So, yes, [the violence] does seem to be targeted. Yes, there seems to be widespread clearance of the population off the land."

Asked if he could define the situation as genocide, Winter replied: "I'm not a lawyer. And I'm not the human rights guy [in the U.S. government]. I'm the humanitarian guy, and we will try to meet the needs of anybody affected by the conflict. The Secretary [of State] has said that he has requested formal legal opinion as to whether the word ‘genocide' should be used to describe the Darfur crisis.

"You saw last week that both Houses of Congress passed resolutions terming the crisis genocidal, but "I'm quite willing to wait at this point, because we're already doing everything we can for the population."

Thus far, total U.S. emergency assistance to the Darfur crisis amounts to over $142 million.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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