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U.S. Needs To Aid Darfur, U. Iowa Speaker Says

This story was written by Shane Ersland, The Daily Iowan

Darfur remains a land torn apart, but the United States still isn't as involved as it should be.

Before a crowd of around 50 people at the University of Iowa Pappajohn Business Building, lecturer Mohamed Yahya said the country has been so since 1993 when ethnic turmoil between Arabs and non-Arabs first erupted.

Someone, anyone, needs to step in and help the country, which is on the western half of Sudan, said Yahya, an activist with Damanga, a charity organization for Darfur based in Washington, D.C.

"The government of Sudan and the Janjaweed militia target civilians in a war that is more about racism, land and power than it is about religion," Yahya said.

Even students on the UI's campus can help, he said.

"I know the students have the courage to make change, because we are all connected as human beings," he said.

The Darfur region is rich with oil, gold, and copper, and the Arabic and government-backed Janjaweed militia systematically kills non-Arabic villagers for these resources, he said. Women are raped, men killed, and villages burned.

Yahya knows from experience. His grandparents were burned alive the first day of the genocide, he said. On that day, 50 villages were attacked, all the huts looted and razed. After the conflicts, people fled in hordes to neighboring Chad to live in refugee camps.

By most predictions, more than 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since the attacks began. Currently, roughly 6 million people live in the country.

"Our focus is on the United States, because it is capable of forcing the United Nations to do something about the conflict," Yahya said. "An embargo should also be put in place to prevent the militia from importing weapons."

In July, 2007, the United Nations rejected a resolution that would have sent 26,000 peace-workers to Darfur to provide security. It also would have demanded a no-fly zone over villages, the disarming of the Janjaweed militia, and freezing Sudanese oil assets, Yahya said.

When the resolution didn't pass, the United Nations sent 9,000 peace-workers to Darfur, which is close to one-third of what Yahya said should have been sent. Since that time, the peace-workers have been attacked three times.

UI freshman Ned Parker said he agrees that the United States needs to be more involved.

"The U.S. government should put more pressure on the United Nations to act on this issue," he said.

The organization Yahya works for spreads the message of Darfur throughout the United States, Yahya said. Damanga promotes Darfur education and livelihood efforts so the people there can preserve their communities, according to its website.

When asked what students can do to help the situation in Darfur, Yahya said, "Use your voice, go meet with your senators, ask them what they are going to do for Darfur."