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HOPE FOR DARFUR

THE DECISION BY Sudan, after initial reservations, to comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm the janjaweed, Arab militias that have forced a mass displacement of non-Arab civilians in Darfur, is a positive development. Disarming these militias, widely believed to have the backing of the Government in Khartoum, is the immediate first step in resolving what the U.N. recently described as the world's "worst" humanitarian crisis arising out of the conflict: thousands dead, over a million homeless, and two million more without adequate access to food or water. Without doubt, reining in the marauders is the only way to persuade the displaced to return to their villages free from the fear of being attacked once again. In demanding that the Sudan Government must begin disarming the militias by August 31 or face unspecified "measures" under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, the resolution quite clearly hinted at economic and diplomatic sanctions without saying so explicitly. Pakistan and China abstained from the vote but all other countries backed the resolution. International opinion is justly concerned over the situation in Darfur. The Sudan Government, under General Omar al-Bashir, took the diplomatically correct path of avoiding an unnecessary confrontation with the international community by agreeing with the U.N. on a plan to disarm the janjaweed, improve security in Darfur, and take steps urgently to address the humanitarian crisis at hand.

However, the problem in Sudan's troubled western province is more complex than it seems and requires a more nuanced response than just setting deadlines or holding out a threat of sanctions by the international community. The Sudanese Government evidently used the janjaweed as a proxy to crush a rebellion by two armed militant groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army in Darfur. As the Egyptian Foreign Minister pointed out after an Arab League emergency meeting over the weekend, the time frame envisaged by the U.N. resolution may not provide enough leeway for Sudan to show results on the ground, particularly as many of the janjaweed now operate independently of the Government. A hasty imposition of sanctions, which will affect all of Sudan, can only worsen the conflict. Moreover, while it is essential to stop the janjaweed, the conflict in Darfur will not end unless efforts are made to address the underlying rebellion. International efforts must focus as much on bringing round the two rebel groups — whose intransigence has fed on hopes of international military intervention — as putting pressure on the Government. Sensibly, the U.N. resolution acknowledges this by urging the "rebel groups to respect the ceasefire, end the violence immediately, engage in peace talks without preconditions, and act in a positive and constructive manner to resolve the conflict."

A promising aspect of the multilateral approach is the pro-active role being played by the African Union in defusing the crisis. The African Union, which is normally reluctant to comment on the internal affairs of its members, was among the first to protest against the atrocities in Darfur. Nigeria and Rwanda sent their soldiers to the region as part of a peacekeeping force to protect the monitors of a ceasefire that was signed between the Government and the rebel groups in April. They are now considering scaling up the number, from 300 to 3,000. The Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has invited the Sudan Government and the rebels to resume peace talks in his country later this month. Sudan's African neighbours understand the gravity of the problem and the complexities of the issues involved better than any other country. They must play the primary role in crafting an enduring solution to the humanitarian and political crisis in Darfur.

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