Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 9 June 2004

Sudan’s turmoil, the world needs to act


Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 09, 2004 — Sudan is an African country that has been tormented by intermittent civil war virtually since its independence in 1956. Therefore, any apparent progress toward peace there must be viewed as tentative, and requiring careful nurturing if it is to prevail.

Thus it is with the power-sharing agreement signed in Nairobi, Kenya, last month between the government in Khartoum and the rebel movement in the south, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement. The first reason for continued concern is that these two organizations — the government based in the north, dominated by Muslims, and the SPLM, based in the south, predominantly Christian or animist — have made peace before and then resumed fighting.

Any peace between them is by its nature fragile and will require international support. Sudan’s neighbors do pay attention to the problem. Kenya in particular has hosted talks between the Sudanese government and SPLM for long periods of time to try to enable them to reach agreement.

The United States has sought to play a constructive role as well. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, just nominated by President Bush to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has served as special envoy to the talks between the two Sudanese parties.

The other, quite disturbing aspect of the overall situation in Sudan at present is, however, the largely unrelated problem of the Darfur region, in the west of the country along its border with Chad. Attacks by a militia, the janjawid, reportedly supported by the Sudanese government, have driven thousands of people from their homes and already killed many, through direct violence or through the results of displacement. The numbers and widespread locations of the victims involved, the poor economic circumstances of the region, and its isolation make the delivery of humanitarian assistance extremely difficult. Access to the Darfur from either the Sudanese and Chadian side is difficult. The Sudanese government is not making it easy, wishing to limit international involvement in the region.

The combination of circumstances in the Darfur is beginning to cause United Nations agencies and other humanitarian bodies to talk about a disaster the magnitude of Rwanda in 1994, where upwards to a million people died. The conflict in the Darfur is not religious — all parties are Muslim — and is being called genocide by some parties since the fighting is occurring on the basis of tribal affiliation.

The United Nations, short of resources as usual, and a United States stretched thin by its commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have not stepped up to the plate yet with regard to Darfur. The United Nations is hard-pressed to find peacekeeping forces for its other missions in Africa, including, most recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting has again flared up.

At the same time, the world is going to have to do something about Darfur, and soon. The alternative is that nations will realize years from now, as they do with Rwanda, that hundreds of thousands of people died — from war or starvation or disease — without the world having acted to prevent or contain the disaster at the time.

There is no excuse — war on terror, insecurity in Iraq, whatever — for the United States, the United Nations and the Europeans to do nothing while this occurs. The Darfur problem needs high-level attention now, and it needs more than words.

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