Call for peace in Darfur

PRESCOTT - Kayla Mueller recalls sitting dumbfounded in a classroom at Tri-City Prep High School more than a year ago as her world geography teacher gave a lesson about the purported genocide that has taken place for four years in an obscure region of the western Sudan in Africa.

Popularly known as Darfur, the contentious region is home to an armed political conflict primarily between the Janjaweed, a vicious Bedouin Arab militia group privately backed by the Sudanese government, and the non-Baggara people, a majority of whom are harmless members of land-tilling tribes.

Since the fighting began in July 2003, the United Nations estimates the conflict has left as many as 450,000 dead from violence and disease, and created 2.5 million refugees.

"My teacher showed us a film on the genocide, and I was just floored," Mueller said Saturday from the courthouse plaza lawn, where she gathered a group of pacifists for a moment of silence before it walked around the block in silent protest of the conflict. "I couldn't believe that in the 21st century when everyone knows about everyone else's business that this is going on."

Although the United Nations has had difficulty effectively deploying peace-keeping forces in Darfur because of Sudanese government opposition, the U.N. is still calling for an end to the violence and so is the Save Darfur Coalition, an outreach group Mueller has been a member of the past two years.

The coalition is pushing the U.N. to send enough peacekeepers to help the African Union force, an ally, protect the non-Baggara people in refugee camps and those still living in the villages. At the moment, the U.N. plans to send 3,000 peacekeepers, but it likely won't make a final decision for another two months.

"We just got the bill passed (in Congress) again to send U.N. Peacekeepers, but we'll see how long it takes," Mueller said.

Saturday afternoon at the courthouse plaza downtown, Mueller, an 18-year-old senior at Tri City, gathered 15 to 20 protesters of the Darfur conflict for silent walks around the block.

One of the protestors, Sofia Mitchell, said her daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Seattle and works at the University of Washington, sent her letters more than a year ago to mail to Congressmen, the president and the secretary of state about the Darfur issue.

Mitchell, who submitted the letters to her church group in Prescott to send out, has been involved in the Save Darfur movement ever since.

"I wasn't doing anything, and my daughter alerted me. She said, 'Do something,'" Mitchell said. "I'm just hoping to help other people think about this and become aware."

Ray Cage, 60, of Veterans for Peace said everyone must speak out against genocide.

"We need to put an end to this type of mass hysteria," Cage said. "We need to get a hold of people who are pathological killers who use warfare as a basis to absolutely go unchecked taking lives. They are not adhering to any particular country or ideals. It's all about the money."

In the spirit of the U.N. peacekeepers, marchers wore blue T-shirts and displayed signs that relayed such messages as "Stop the Genocide" and "Instead of mourning a genocide, what if we could stop one?"

Mueller said she has worked for several months to organize the walks. Initially she had planned a benefit concert, but could not find a complex to rent for it.

"Regardless of age, race, religion, religion, political affiliation, (the non-Baggara) are humans and they're being slaughtered because of their ethnicity and because of their religion, and that's wrong regardless of anything," she said. "What really floors me is our inaction."

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com