Time's Up

Sunday, May 20, 2007

ONE MONTH ago President Bush said that he was giving the Sudanese government a "last chance" to comply with United Nations orders to end what Mr. Bush again called "genocide" in Darfur. Strongman Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president said, would have "a short period of time" to agree to the full deployment of an international peacekeeping force, end support for militias that have been slaughtering civilians, and allow aid into the region. "If President Bashir does not meet his obligations," Mr. Bush said in a speech delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "the United States will act."

The day after Mr. Bush spoke, Mr. Bashir's government launched a new campaign of bombing raids in northern Darfur. Helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft attacked villages for the next 10 days, according to the United Nations. In the village of Um Rai, the United Nations said, rockets fired by a government helicopter blasted a school. The government painted some of its planes white so that they would be mistaken for U.N. aircraft operating in the region.

Violence is escalating elsewhere in Darfur, driven not only by the government's war with separatist rebels but by an insurgency in neighboring Chad, rebel splinter groups and local grievances. The United Nations has counted another 250,000 displaced persons during the past six months, adding to the more than 2 million refugees, many of them crammed into undersupplied and insecure camps. Meanwhile, the African Union's peacekeeping force is on the verge of breaking down. Rwanda is among several governments threatening to withdraw troops because of the failure of Western governments to provide funding and equipment.

The U.N. plan to turn the African Union force into a joint mission with more than 20,000 troops, finalized last fall, is stalled. Pressured by his former allies in the Arab League and China, Mr. Bashir grudgingly agreed last month to accept 3,000 U.N. troops. But the half-baked compromise for deploying them is so unwieldy -- the U.N. forces will have to operate in Darfur under African Union command -- that few countries have been willing to pledge soldiers. Even if successfully deployed the shrunken force would be far too small to protect civilians.

All this should make it obvious that "the short period of time" that Mr. Bush allowed has run out. The president reluctantly agreed to the delay because U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon pleaded for more time to negotiate with Mr. Bashir. But Mr. Ban's own spokesperson called the renewed bombing "indiscriminate" and a violation of international law. In his April 18 speech Mr. Bush mentioned one clear remedy for such attacks: steps "by the international community" to "deny Sudan's government the ability to fly its military aircraft over Darfur." There is support for that idea in the British government; now is the time for Mr. Bush to actively explore it while implementing the unilateral U.S. financial sanctions he outlined. With the United States holding the chair of the U.N. Security Council, now is also the time to introduce the sanctions resolution that Britain and the United States have been discussing. Mr. Bashir has had his "last chance" -- in fact, he has had far too many of them.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company