By MICHELLE FAUL
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; 7:37 PM
UNITED NATIONS -- Sudan's foreign minister said Wednesday that the West is ignoring a new hunger crisis in eastern Sudan, complaining that he expected no action until it becomes a full-blown conflict with people dying and refugees fleeing.
Mustafa Osman Ismail also charged that European sanctions were one cause of a humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region, where at least 180,000 people have died from ethnic fighting over arable land and water and from hunger and disease brought by the chaos.
An estimated 2.74 million survivors are affected by continuing troubles in Darfur, more than 60 percent of them women and children, the U.N. Children's Fund says.
A similar disaster now looms in the east of Africa's largest nation, but no one is responding, Ismail said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press during the U.N. World Summit.
"In the eastern part of Sudan, we are telling them (donors) that people don't have food and don't have medicine," he said. "Unfortunately they will come after there is loss of life, after the people have left their homes and become displaced and refugees, then the international community will come."
The international community responds generously to disasters, but is unwilling to act to prevent a crisis, Ismail said.
"We told them, if you had spent half the money which you are spending now in Darfur before, this tragic situation would never have taken place in Darfur," he said.
The conflict in Darfur broke out in early 2003, adding to the burdens of a country already gripped by civil war in the south that killed some 2 million people since it began in 1983. The southern fighting ended with a power-sharing accord earlier this year, but the west and east remain restive.
Fighting in Darfur, a region the size of France, pitted rebels from ethnic African tribes against Arab tribal militias allied with the previously Islamic-oriented national government in Khartoum. The militias have been accused of unleashing a campaign of murder, rape and arson against civilians.
The war in the south saw mainly Christian and animist southerners fighting for autonomy from the Arab Muslim-dominated central government.
Ismail said the government may have reacted too harshly to the Darfur rebels, but he rejected the characterization of the southern and western conflicts as religious- or ethnic-based.
He called the southern war a political fight for power, and said Darfur's is an extreme example of growing frictions between nomadic and sedentary tribes over land and water in Sudan, where more than 40 million people try to live on a million square miles of semi-desert.
Ismail argued that sanctions imposed by the European Union in the 1990s to punish Sudan's government over the southern war resulted in halts to projects to provide water, electricity and irrigation in Darfur, where farmers grew sugar and corn. The EU lifted the sanctions in January.
"In the mid-'90s we have a drought, and continuing desertification attacks the area and it created a point of conflict between settled tribes and nomadic tribes, who were having difficulty finding water and moving further and further south," Ismail said.
He said the nomads, desperate for water, violated a centuries-old understanding set up by the former British colonial rulers. When the nomads invaded land set aside for farm fields, farmers retaliated by growing crops in corridors assigned for the movement of nomads, and clashes escalated.
Ismail also complained that the United States has been slow in acting on promises to lift economic sanctions and provide aid.
"They promised once we signed the peace agreement (in the south), that sanctions would be lifted and aid would come, and we signed it," Ismail said. "Now they say the situation in Darfur has to be resolved."