In April, Osama bin Laden urged all Muslims to fight in Sudan if UN troops go to Darfur. Sudan leader Omar el-Bashir also warned UN forces would find their "graveyard" in the province. So what did the UN Security Council do? It voted to set up a force in Darfur.
The world finally got serious about this genocide of non-Arab people - nearly 200,000 killed since 2003 with more than 2 million Darfurians made homeless in attacks by the Sudan-supported Arab militias called janjaweed.
The council's action on Tuesday, in citing the UN Charter's member- binding Chapter VII, sets a pleasant precedent for just the kind of uninvited humanitarian intervention in civil conflicts that UN chief Kofi Annan and others have urged since the global failure to stop Rwanda's genocide in 1994.
The UN also stood up nicely to the threats of Al Qaeda and its friends in the Islamic world. And China, too, which up to now has sided with Sudan because of its reliance on oil exports from the northeast African nation, appears to have decided it can't afford to stand in the way of an effort to end a genocide. (China went along only after African nations approved the UN move into Sudan.)
Sudan's Arab-Islamic regime has yet to give an official nod to the UN's move, which may end up deploying as many as 20,000 soldiers to Darfur. Last year, Sudan did approve the African Union sending 7,300 troops, but that force has proven to be feeble in stopping the slaughter or protecting refugees.
No matter what Sudan says, the council appears determined to move ahead. The unanimous resolution demands that Sudan allow a UN assessment team of military experts into Darfur by next week. It also threatens sanctions against Sudanese officials who oppose the shaky accord between Sudan and the main rebel force in Darfur signed May 5. And John Bolton, US envoy to the UN, warns: "Sudan would find itself in a very difficult position if it didn't cooperate."
A sizable international force is needed to protect Darfur's refugees, monitor any cease-fire, and eventually assist people in returning to their villages, which are spread across a desert area larger than California. And it's also needed to curb the spillover of this conflict into neighboring Chad.
Building political momentum for action in Darfur has taken too long. But the May 5 peace accord (as tenuous as it is without some rebel groups on board), and now the council's action, should help widen a consensus among other nations to not sit idle.
The next big step will be winning support from many countries, especially NATO member-states, to contribute troops and money for the UN force. If struggling Africa has shown some will to enter Darfur, surely the US, Britain, and other Western countries can. After all, they are obligated to act under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Nations need not fear intervention in Darfur will be a repeat of the 1991 US military debacle in Somalia, a badly planned humanitarian effort. Darfur is the killing fields of this decade. The atrocities must be stopped.