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Hope in Darfur

Wednesday, September 22, 2004; Page A30

DARFUR'S HUMANITARIAN crisis has been in the news so repeatedly that it has acquired a sort of static quality. Report after report recaps the basics of the catastrophe: Sudan's government has equipped and supported an Arab militia called the Janjaweed, which has unleashed a genocidal terror on Darfur's African population; there is much maneuvering at the U.N. Security Council, with China and Russia always opposing punishment for Sudan's government and the United States always demanding action. The repetitive quality of this narrative saps even sympathizers' optimism -- humanitarians are only human -- driving Darfur into that thick mental folder labeled "perennial, insoluble."

So stop, pinch yourself and fix your mind on two facts.

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First, Darfur's crisis is not static. Hundreds are dying daily in the camps for displaced people. Moreover, villages continue to be destroyed, so the camps are growing. For example, there were about 10,000 displaced people in the Greda camp on Aug. 26, according to the relief agency Oxfam; by Sept. 7, the same camp held more than 40,000 people. Another camp, in Kalma, has reportedly swollen by 3,000 refugees in the space of 10 days. Taking all such reports together, Eric Reeves, an independent Sudan watcher, calculates that at least 100,000 people have fled to camps and urban areas over the past month. So Darfur's crisis, which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has already labeled genocide, is getting worse, not standing still. Tens of thousands of displaced people are going to subsist for months on foreign aid. Or they are going to perish.

Second, the world's response to Darfur is not static either. The United Nations has proceeded at a glacial pace, thanks to China and its fellow foot-draggers. On Saturday the Security Council passed another Darfur resolution, its threat of sanctions so diluted as to be almost meaningless. But the U.N. decision to collect evidence in Darfur that might support a finding of genocide, along with U.S. pressure and the possibility of European Union sanctions, is driving Sudan to the point where it may accept the presence of foreign troops. Time and again Sudan's dictatorship has proved that it will bend to pressure: It expelled Osama bin Laden, it negotiated peace with the country's southern rebels, and it has improved humanitarian access to Darfur's camps. This time will be no exception, provided that the pressure is sufficient.

The goal of this pressure must be to build on the small contingent of African Union troops already in Darfur. But it is essential that this force acquire a robust mandate as well as enlarged numbers. The African Union troops now there are assigned to protect a team monitoring the paper cease-fire, and the emerging Sudanese position is that a larger force may be acceptable only if its mandate is unchanged -- and preferably if the new African troops deploy jointly with Sudanese contingents. This would confine the African forces to responding to reports of violence after the fact, rather than deterring new attacks. If the Sudanese half of a joint contingent suddenly found itself unable to get to a trouble spot for lack of fuel, the African half would be grounded.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, Secretary General Kofi Annan declared that it would be wrong to let crimes against humanity continue out of deference to the principle of sovereignty. The danger is that the African Union is at least as deferential to sovereign member governments as the United Nations and that it will cave in to Sudan's demands for a meaningless troop mandate. The Bush administration and its European allies must therefore insert themselves into this negotiation: It is they who will provide the money and logistical support to make an African Union deployment possible, and they must insist that its mission is to protect Darfur's civilians from new attacks, not merely to monitor a cease-fire. Experience shows that the West has the muscle to win this argument with Sudan -- provided it really wants to.

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