The humanitarian crisis in Darfur--a region in western Sudan roughly the size of France--is widely recognized as one of the direst in the world. Hundreds of thousands of civilians native to the area have been killed by local militias, while millions more have had to flee their homes for refugee camps; thousands have died of disease and starvation in those camps.
The crisis in Darfur began in 2003, around the time that a decades-long civil war between the Sudanese government, based in the north of the country, and southern rebels was drawing to a close. A separate coalition of rebels in Darfur attacked government troops, provoking a response in which government-sponsored militias--known as the Janjaweed--began a systematic campaign of destroying Darfuri villages and killing their residents.
Marc Lacey described the situation for the New York Times: "The Janjaweed ride camels and horses and use automatic weapons against those they come across. They ride into villages en masse and shoot anyone in sight. As the militiamen torch and loot, the villagers grab what they can and run."
In a June 2004 column, Kristof wrote about a Darfuri woman named Magboula Muhammad Khattar, who lived with her husband and two children in the village of Ab-Layha. In March 2004, Sudanese planes bombed Ab-Layha; within moments, members of the Janjaweed attacked the village, killing Khattar's parents along with many others.
Khattar told Kristof that the Janjaweed yelled during the attack, "We will not allow them here.... This land is only for us."
Kristof described the attack as "part of a deliberate strategy to ensure that the village would be forever uninhabitable," noting that the Janjaweed killed all the town's livestock and destroyed its water sources.
While the Sudanese government asserts that it has no connection to the Janjaweed and does not endorse or support their attacks, many journalists and international observers have contradicted that claim. They note that many Janjaweed attacks coincide with government bombings of Darfuri villages.
International efforts to pressure Sudan to end the atrocities, meanwhile, have been complicated. China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council--and therefore able to veto any U.N. resolutions concerning Sudan--buys a lot of oil from Sudan. Indeed, some experts say that Sudan's oil revenue, largely derived from China, has funded the atrocities in Darfur.
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