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No peace in Darfur

November 21, 2005

THE DISPATCH OF AFRICAN peacekeepers to end government-sanctioned mass murders in Sudan last year won deserved praise. Nations that often complained about interference in their affairs by former colonial powers were stepping forward to solve one of the continent's own problems.

But when the battlefield is the Sudanese territory of Darfur, nothing is ever easy.

In recent weeks, rebel fighters have stripped and beaten aid workers and kidnapped more than a dozen African Union monitors. Guerrillas killed two peacekeeping soldiers when they tried to stop an attack on a civilian contractor. Militias allied with the government have attacked villages housing refugees.

Episodic peace talks in Nigeria have the goal of ending the fighting, which has killed an estimated 180,000 people and displaced 2 million. But a split inside the Darfur rebel groups has made that more difficult. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick met with leaders of warring rebel factions recently in Kenya to try to jump-start the talks. The unfortunate result was posturing and theatrics. Matters did not improve much when Zoellick visited Darfur later.

The Bush administration last year described Khartoum's assaults on Darfur as genocide. The Sudanese government has supported or aided Arab fighters attacking black African villagers. But Washington has been reluctant to get too tough on Sudan because it benefits from Sudanese intelligence-gathering.

The African Union's presence has helped, but it has been insufficient to stop the killing. Only 7,000 peacekeepers are patrolling a territory the size of Texas. Khartoum interferes with peacekeepers' flights, and the monitors need more vehicles.

When the African Union forces were deployed, violence ebbed and relief organizations were able to travel more freely. But attacks by both sides have increased as outside attention drifted away. The U.N. needs to take a new look and see if it can bolster the peacekeepers; if necessary, it should transform the force from African to U.N., adding more clout.

Making the matter more urgent is the scheduled shift of the rotating presidency of the African Union to Sudan in January. Although largely ceremonial, the presidency in Sudanese hands cannot be expected to react as needed to stop the continued battle that Khartoum helped launch.

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