Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 8 July 2004

A tougher response can save lives in Sudan


Editorial, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 08, 2004 — The high-level visits to Western Sudan last week were an attempt to focus world and media attention on the human suffering in Darfur. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan both sought to reverse the precipitous slide toward tragedy and begin work on solutions to the problem.

But has the tide actually turned? The fundamental issues remain in place. A rebellion against the central government supported by African villagers began early last year. It prompted what is definitely ethnic cleansing and may be genocide, carried out against the African villagers by Arab militias supported by Sudanese government troops. That conflict has not been resolved.

The results are catastrophic in human terms. Solid figures are hard to come by because the area is very isolated and the people providing the numbers are either biased or only partly informed. Nonetheless, thousands appear to have died from fighting, famine or disease and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in miserable camps in Sudan and neighboring Chad.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Annan visited Darfur and also met in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, with its president, Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir. Mr. Bashir promised to send 6,000 troops to the area to disarm the rebels and the Arab militia. He promised that the Sudanese government would stop hindering humanitarian aid efforts and that he would speed negotiations with the rebels.

But Mr. Bashir’s commitments came only in response to threats by Mr. Powell and Mr. Annan to seek U.N. Security Council action against Sudan and U.S. warnings that it would tighten, rather than loosen, already existing economic sanctions. The United States attacked Sudan with cruise missiles in 1998 after attacks on American embassies in East Africa.

The Sudan government’s good faith was also called into question during Mr. Annan’s visit. The country’s foreign minister claimed there was no famine among the refugees and the displaced at a particularly notorious refugee camp, contrary to what humanitarian organizations were reporting.

So has the world done enough in response to the tragedy?

The U.S. Senate put $95 million for relief in Sudan and Chad into the defense bill. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other countries are supporting aid efforts already under way in Darfur. The African Union has appointed a small cease-fire commission. The United States is sending military doctors to refugee camps in Chad.

Those are all positive steps, but given the isolation and the questionable good faith of the Sudanese government, the response requires more. Systematic and laborious U.N. and U.S. efforts will be needed to keep Darfur from becoming an unforgivable disaster. Sudan and the world have clearly been put on notice.

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