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Darfur's Desperation

June 08, 2004

The death toll in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, in the last year is staggering: 10,000 by conservative estimates, 30,000 by a reckoning of the nonpartisan International Crisis Group. In response, President Bush last month said Sudan "must immediately stop local militias from committing atrocities against the local population"; the European Union said it was "essential that the Sudanese government fulfill its commitment to control the irregular armed forces." These well-meaning demands have proved pathetically ineffective in stopping Sudan's government-backed ethnic cleansing. Stronger measures, up to and including military intervention, are needed.

The heads of the world's leading industrial nations should put Darfur atop the agenda at the Group of 8 summit in Sea Island, Ga., this week. European nations, which failed to intervene in the face of similar atrocities in the Balkans and Rwanda, should warn Sudan they will dispatch troops if the ethnic cleansing is not halted. France has peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast, and British troops helped end a civil war in Sierra Leone two years ago. A troop commitment from the European powers is needed because the United States is simply stretched too thin by the Iraq conflict to send a significant peacekeeping force to Darfur.

Sudan's Arab rulers, in part by agreeing to share oil revenues, completed a preliminary peace deal with Christian and animist rebels in the south who had waged a 21-year civil war. The peace talks inflamed two rebel groups in the west, which protested being left out of the spoils. Militias armed by the government in the capital, Khartoum, have battled the rebels and pillaged civilians of the Zaghawa, Fur and Massalit tribes. The civil war has forced more than 1 million from their homes, more than 100,000 of them fleeing into neighboring Chad. The lucky ones live in refugee camps in terrible conditions; the less fortunate brave sandstorms in the brutal desert.

Lack of water and food means that many more Darfurians will die. Last week Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that even if relief efforts were accelerated, more than 300,000 forced from their homes would die of starvation and disease. If Sudan keeps blocking aid or foreign governments hesitate, Natsios said, the "death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching 1 million people."

The U.S. joined the rest of the world a decade ago in watching Hutus kill Tutsis in a genocide in Rwanda that left more than 800,000 people slain. The anniversary of those killings brought great international lamentation two months ago. But the global community possessed the power to stop that crisis, just as it does this one. What it requires is political will to exercise that power, especially from European nations that in the past have been all too reluctant to commit troops in the face of mass slaughter.

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