Backdoor Help for Darfur

The UN Security Council took an unusual step last week to end the longest conflict in Africa: For only the fourth time in UN history, the Council left New York, going to Africa to meet with two sides in Sudan's 21-year civil war.

This gesture, which took place in neighboring Kenya, ended in an agreed deadline to finalize a peace deal by Dec. 31 between Sudan's Arab-dominated government in the north and the largely Christian rebels in the south.

The urgency behind this deal is to provide an incentive for ending the recent conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur, which has left more than 50,000 dead. If the north- south deal for sharing power and oil wealth can work, diplomats hope Darfur's rebels will sign up for a similar deal.

While the Council's move has a chance of succeeding, it does not absolve the UN of taking stronger action to stop government-supported attacks on Darfur's non-Arab villagers that the US has labeled genocide. China, which imports Sudanese oil, has been reluctant to support sanctions on the Sudanese government.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hinted last week at possible outside military action in Darfur: "When crimes on such a scale are being committed, and a sovereign state appears unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, a grave responsibility falls on the international community, and specifically on this Council."

Such so-called "humanitarian intervention" may yet be needed in Sudan, a country that was home to Osama bin Laden a decade ago.

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