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The Truth Behind the Sudan Embassy Riots

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Finally protests have erupted in Sudan - but unfortunately an Arab Spring is yet to unfold.

Last Friday crowds protesting about the controversial anti-Muslim video broke into the German embassy in Khartoum, and then besieged the American and British diplomatic compounds. The White House declared it would send 50 Marines to guard their embassy. However, the Sudanese regime refused to allow them in, claiming Sudan's own security services could protect American staff.

This promise is disingenuous because it seems likely the regime itself incited the rioting. Last week the Al-Intibaha newspaper called on good Muslims to protest. The paper is owned by the uncle of Sudanese president Omar Bashir. In addition, a prominent sheik, Mohammed Jizouly, used a radio broadcast on Friday to instruct his followers to march first to the German embassy and then the American one.

In a country where there is no free speech it is inconceivable that either the article or the broadcast could happen without official sanction. Sudan stops unofficial protests with unhesitating brutality, as happened two months ago when pro-democracy students attempted to start an Arab Spring in Khartoum. The fact that they let the rioters, who were conveniently bussed to the German mission, get as far as they did indicates whose side the security services were on.

The local human rights group, Sudan Change Now, claims the riot was the result of the regime's "purposeful misinformation and propaganda and hate speech."

This should prompt the international community to reconsider how far it trusts the indicted war criminal Field Marshall Bashir. He has given us many opportunities to do so. Indeed we should have grasped the true fundamentalist, Islamist nature of his regime in the 1990s, when Bashir gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden for five years. As recently as August, at the non-aligned summit in Tehran, Bashir reaffirmed his ideological brotherhood with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran

Yet, there seems to be no learning curve when dealing with Sudan's deceitful National Islamic Front (rebranded as the more prosaic National Congress Party). Since assuming power in a 1989 coup they have tried to cleanse the nation of those who do not embrace their inflexible vision of a religiously and ethnically pure Sudan. Among those paying the price have been the ten million people living in what is now independent South Sudan, and the six million citizens in Darfur.

Whenever the world has objected to Khartoum's brutality, Bashir and his cronies have willingly agreed to seemingly endless peace talks. On each occasion they spin out negotiations while they continue the slaughter. They sign deals which they then disregard as soon as the international community's backs are turned; they habitually accede to nine out of ten points, and then, after months of discussion and posturing, they insist the final unresolved issue nullifies all else. They are always first to blame the other side for being awkward, skilfully winning each public relations battle, particularly in the African and Arab media; the indulged child who is expert at pacifying its angry parent whilst continuing to kick his sibling under the table.

Given Sudan's track record, a more sceptical approach is long overdue; one that involves ensuring every agreement we oversee contains specific consequences when key elements are violated. Instead, there is never sufficient political will on behalf of the international community to hold its ground, demanding enforcement of the deals Khartoum signs and then ignores. So long as we refuse to use the soft power and the economic levers within our grasp, we embolden the regime's negotiators who conclude they can continue to deceive us. Until we ensure there are repercussions for breaking peace deals, the internal repression and massive human rights abuses will continue.

Right now hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians are sheltering in caves in the Nuba Mountains on the southern edge of Sudan, forced to survive on a diet of insects and leaves. Khartoum and its local proxies are hunting them like animals, driving them from their farmland and letting starvation complete what their indiscriminate bombing fails to achieve.

Under international pressure the regime is attending talks in Ethiopia. It has agreed to allow humanitarian access to the besieged Nuba people, but, true to form, it continues to put new obstacles in the path of the desperately needed aid mission. It insists that only the regime can deliver food, suspecting that supplies will reach rebels instead. Only the truly delusional would believe Khartoum will hand over food to the ethnic group it has been trying to exterminate since the 1990s. Yet, the international community tolerates Sudan's delaying tactics, hoping Khartoum will suddenly embrace reform.

If the international community fails to hold Bashir's regime responsible for its actions, we should at the very least recognise it for what it is: manipulative, racist and repressive, rather than an honest partner in the search for peace. It incites a riot one day and promises peace the next, all the while disregarding international law.

Yesterday a regime spokesman insisted America did not need to move its mission to Kenya because Sudan is the safest country in the region. Though not if you are a Nuban, hiding in a mountain cave, contemplating your next meal of insects and leaves.

Waging Peace
is a human rights organisation which campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights violations in Sudan.