Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold

Published February 25, 2011

Published: September 29, 2010

The global refrain about genocide is “Never Again,” but we may be watching how that slips into “One More Time.”

The place is southern Sudan, and the timetable is the next few months. The South, which holds more than 75 percent of Sudan’s oil, is scheduled to hold a referendum on Jan. 9 on seceding from the rest of Sudan. Here’s how one more time might unfold:

DEC. 10, 2010 Word trickles out of massacres and widespread rapes by tribal militias from the North in the boiling borderlands between North and South. The North denies responsibility.

DEC. 15 The chairman of the referendum commission (from the North) calls on the South to postpone the vote for “just one month,” pointing to insecurity and to inadequate preparations for voting. The South insists that the referendum will go on as scheduled. The North angrily responds that the vote would then be illegal.

JAN. 9, 2011 The referendum is held in secure areas of South Sudan. But it is poorly planned, and there are widespread irregularities. There is no voting in Abyei, an oil-rich area at the border of North and South, partly because the North has moved in 80,000 Misseriya Arabs who must be allowed to vote, it says, swamping the permanent residents.

JAN. 18 The South declares that 91 percent of voters have chosen secession. The North denounces the vote, saying it was illegal, tainted by violence and fraud, and invalid because the turnout fell below the 60 percent threshold required.

JAN. 20 The South issues a unilateral declaration of independence.

JAN. 25 Tribal militias from the North sweep through South Sudan villages, killing and raping inhabitants and driving them south. The governor of a border state in the North, Ahmad Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and organizing the janjaweed militia in Darfur, denies that he is now doing the same thing in the South.

JAN. 28 Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, dispatches armed forces to seize oil wells in the South. “The breakdown of security impels us to take this action to protect the nation’s natural resources,” Mr. Bashir says. “We will continue to share revenue with the South while seeking peaceful solution of our disagreements.”

FEB. 10 With hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the attacks, South Sudan collapses into chaos. “How can those people think that they can run a country?” asks Mr. Bashir. He calls for “peaceful negotiation with our brothers to resolve these problems and restore unity.”

FEB. 15 Warfare ripples through the Nuba Mountains and then Darfur as well. Militias now cover up massacres by hiding bodies in wells to reduce the risk of war crimes prosecutions.

O.K., my one prediction is that events won’t unfold precisely like that. But President Bashir seems emboldened, and I fear we’re on a track toward Sudan being the world’s bloodiest war in 2011.

The Obama administration is, belatedly, now heavily engaged in Sudan. I met Mr. Obama and his aides last week to talk about Sudan, and the White House seems as focused on Sudan as on any international issue, with daily meetings on how to avoid war. That’s terrific.

The carrots being offered to Khartoum by Mr. Obama are juicy and smart. The White House has lined up other countries to apply pressure on North and South, and it now is twisting arms for a deal on Abyei. All this is a huge step forward.

But there’s a fatal flaw: I see no evidence of serious sticks. Put yourself in President Bashir’s shoes. It may still be in his interest to plan a genocidal strategy in the coming months if that will enable him to keep the oil. Even privately, we haven’t laid out strong enough disincentives.

In contrast, the Bush administration mapped out exactly what would happen to Sudan if it did not share intelligence on Osama bin Laden. C.I.A. officers met in a London hotel with two top Sudanese leaders. An excellent new book from Yale University Press, “Sudan,” reports that the C.I.A. officers explained that America would use bombers or cruise missiles to destroy the oil refinery at Port Sudan, the port itself and the pipeline carrying oil to the port.

Sudan decided to cooperate.

Likewise, a former special envoy for Sudan, Ambassador Richard Williamson, suggested in memos to the Bush White House a series of other tough sticks to gain leverage. The Obama administration still hasn’t picked them up.

Why shouldn’t we privately make it clear to Mr. Bashir that if he initiates genocide, his oil pipeline will be destroyed and he will not be exporting any oil?

Yes, that would be a dangerous and uncertain game. But the present strategy appears to be failing, and the result may be yet another preventable genocide that we did not prevent.

Original article found here:

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