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Q and A: Facts behind Darfur

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  • Rape, hunger exacerbate hardships in Darfur refugee camps
  • U.N. peacekeeping force underequipped and undermanned
  • Millions of people have been affected by conflict
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(CNN) -- It's the scene of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the biggest U.N. aid operation and the 21st century's first genocide -- yet the toxic blend of militants, rebels, bandits and government forces in Darfur is barely understood by the outside world. Here CNN answers the basic questions surrounding the violence-stricken region.

How did it start?

A refugee from the western Sudanese region of Darfur stands in front of a makeshift hut.

A refugee from the western Sudanese region of Darfur stands in front of a makeshift hut.

Violence erupted in western Sudan's Darfur region in 2003 when rebels began attacking government targets claiming the impoverished territory was being neglected. The rebels claimed black Africans were being marginalized in favor of ethnic Arab groups. The government retaliated, recruiting Arab militia fighters, resulting in violence that has led to the displacement of millions of people and the deaths of thousands more.

Who is involved?

Two rebels groups -- the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement -- were initially involved in the attacks, but these splintered along ethnic lines, reportedly funded by cash peace incentives from the international community. The government meanwhile mobilized what it calls "self-defense militias." It has denied links to the Janjaweed -- fighters from Arab-speaking African tribes blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur.

Who is affected?

In five years of conflict, the United Nations says 300,000 people have been killed in the violence. At least 2.5 million have been forced from their homes or fled to displacement camps where they continue to suffer violence, rape and appalling conditions. Sudanese officials, who tightly control access to the region, say only 10,000 have died in the fighting and have rejected claims by the United States and others, that genocide is taking place.

What is being done?

In June last year, the U.N. Security Council approved a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force called UNAMID to replace a 7,000-troop African Union mission largely viewed as ineffective. Sudan has objected strongly to the force which has yet to reach its full deployment. According to CNN's Nic Robertson, the force is hamstrung by lack of personnel and equipment and is being restricted the Sudanese government.

What are the wider implications?

Conflict in Darfur has threatened to spill beyond the border of Sudan into Chad, where many Darfurians have fled. Chad has accused Sudan of backing Janjaweed raids on its territory and backing an attempt to overthrow its president. The Sudanese government has claimed that Chad is providing support to the Darfur rebels. Some analysts also warn that instability in Sudan' created by the conflict could play into the hands of the Al Qaeda terror group which has previously sought to gain a foothold in the country. Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has warned that his group will respond to an increased U.N presence in Darfur with attacks. The situation in Darfur has also threatened to overshadow this year's Olympic Games in Beijing

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What has this got to do with the Olympics?

China has decried efforts to link the situation in Darfur with its already controversial Beijing Olympic Games, but some politicians and celebrity campaigners say the event must be boycotted unless the communist country uses its influence to pressure Sudan into ending the conflict. The Bush administration is among those to accuse Beijing of not doing enough to encourage Sudan into accepting a full U.N. peacekeeping force, while the U.S. House of Representatives says the Olympics could be in danger unless China acts on Darfur.

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