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Sudan's State-Sponsored Pyromania

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This op-ed appears today in the Los Angeles Times.

The Khmer Rouge's Pol Pot had hundreds of thousands of people dig their own mass graves before they were beaten to death in Cambodia's killing fields. Rwanda's Interahamwe militias used machetes to kill 800,000 people in 100 days. Now, another low-tech, clandestine approach to orchestrating mass atrocities is being perfected by the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, in Sudan. No need for shovels or machetes when you have a box of matches.

Over the last two decades, I've gone to smoldering village after smoldering village in Sudan and the surrounding region, interviewing the survivors of attacks by militias supported by the NCP. Each time the pattern is the same.

In Darfur, I've sneaked across the border eight times to listen to stories of genocidal attacks carried out by the janjaweed militias. In southwestern Sudan, I listened to the testimonies of survivors of slave raiding and ethnic cleansing carried out by the murahaleen militias. In southeastern Sudan, I watched the beginnings of targeted village raids carried out initially by minority "white army" ethnic militias. In northern Uganda, I've driven all over to find escapees who can document the forced recruitment of child soldiers and gruesome killings carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army of Joseph Kony.

In each case, militias burned villages by the hundreds, clearing populations from their homes at a rate higher than any other region in the world. Burning populations out of their areas of origin, usually on the basis of ethnic identity, may require a new terminology in order to fully capture its intent and methodology. It is, quite simply, state-sponsored pyromania.

In each case in Sudan, the patron of the militias perpetrating most of the human-rights crimes has been the NCP, orchestrating the destruction from Khartoum. When faced with internal or neighboring opposition to its absolute rule, the NCP has literally set the area in rebellion on fire.

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John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.