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Military Utility of the Rail and Road Repair

The delivery plans may be over optimistic and road and rail routes may not work out, forcing a resort again to more expensive airdrops. While delivery by rail costs less than air, the train and track are of great military value to the government of Sudan, and have been used exclusively for military purposes for several years. Prior attempts to deliver relief food on this railway have come to naught.50

According to the Indian Ocean Newsletter, the WFP, the U.S., and France would finance the railway=s rehabilitation costs,51 although U.S. Ambassador Dick McCall, the U.S. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, told Human Rights Watch in November 1998 that the U.S. made it clear that it opposes use of the railway.52 According to another article, the WFP plan is to send a train monthly with sixty-four wagons each carrying twenty-five MT of food. Such a train would bring the equivalent of one hundred airdrops.53

Repair of the railway between Babanusa and Wau as contemplated will result in substantial military advantage to the government of Sudan. The Minimum Operational Standards for Rail Corridors and Cross-line Road Corridors Agreement tries to minimize this by providing that Ano military or commercial trains will depart from any location along the corridor en route to Wau two weeks prior to, or after, a humanitarian convoy.@54 If a convoy goes to Wau every two weeks, under this agreement the government will not be able to use the repaired track to move military supplies, troops, muraheleen, or their horses. It is highly unlikely that the government will permit such frequent convoys. Therefore the SPLA will undoubtedly try to stop the government from using the repaired track, by ambush or sabotage of the track.

The military trains to Wau frequently have carried agents of human rights abuses and famine: muraheleen, their horses, and army soldiers, who loot the villages along the line for cattle and grain, and capture the women and children as war booty. The government has permitted these abuses to continue unchecked for years, since they serve a military purpose in the government=s eyes: weakening the Dinka civilian population that aids the SPLA.

Thus, there is a strong possibility, based on history, that repair of the track will not only be a waste of money (if it is sabotaged by the SPLA), but will actually result in a worsening of the famine situation and require additional relief, not to mention enabling human rights abuses. In this sense, repair of the track may be counterproductive from a famine relief and human rights point of view.

Repairing the roads does not involve the same danger, since the roads pass from the Ugandan and Kenyan borders and thus are not susceptible of use by the muraheleen. Any roads, however, can be used by mechanized forces, and both the government and the SPLA have many tanks that can move more quickly over roads than through dense undergrowth or high grass. Fuel for these tanks and heavy artillery can be moved more easily over road, as well.

While lowering the cost of the transport of food aid, repair of both track and roads carries with it the possibility of facilitating and spreading the conflict. Agencies should closely monitor the relationship and be prepared to switch to alternative means of delivery, even more expensive means of delivery, if their modes of transportation are ultimately facilitating the commission of human rights abuses.

The government=s pattern of obstructing relief by refusing access has been well documented, as has the SPLA=s penchant for using relief centers for its own benefit. If this delivery system is to work, manipulations and refusals of accessCby government, rebels, and warlordsCmust be promptly responded to and stopped. Indeed, the OLS, U.N., and all NGOs working in the relief operation need to devise an effective response to future manipulations and denials of access.55

50 See Appendix C.

51 "Human Railway,@ Indian Ocean Newsletter (Paris), no. 832, November 7, 1998.

52 Human Rights Watch interview, Ambassador Dick McCall, after OFDA/BPRM/InterAction Meeting, Washington, DC, November 19, 1998.

53 Crawley, ABreakthrough in Sudan food talks helps food delivery.@

54 This tripartite agreement was signed by the South Sudan Coordinating Council (for the government), the SPLM, and OCHA on November 18, 1998 in Rome.

55 See U.S. Committee for Refugees, ASudan in Late >98,@ Washington, DC, December 10, 1998. The USCR advocates declaring southern Sudan a Ahumanitarian autonomous zone@ for purposes of delivering humanitarian relief whenever and wherever required. Whatever the approach, one should be selected and enforced.

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