Another Urgent UN Task: Sudan

As many as 350,000 hungry refugees in Sudan are in immediate need of assistance if they are to survive, according to the nonprofit International Crisis Group.

And the help they most need? UN intervention to stop the violence in Sudan's western province of Darfur.

This humanitarian crisis, which has seen 30,000 killings so far and created nearly 1 million refugees, is being compared to the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda. That African tragedy saw 800,000 deaths, which the UN now regards as its greatest failure to act against genocide.

Africa's largest country is a land of conflict, home to both Arab and black, Muslim and Christian. While a long-running war between Christians in the south and Muslim leaders in the capital of Khartoum appears close to a settlement, it is a recent war waged by some Muslim black rebel groups in Darfur and marauding bands of Muslim Arabs that's created so many refugees. Most of the refugees are especially at risk because of Darfur's harsh landscape.

Evidence has mounted that Sudan's Air Force is assisting armed Arab horsemen who are plundering rural villages. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says "the risk of genocide remains frighteningly real" in Darfur. This has led the United States to consider asking the Security Council to put pressure on the regime.

Only this week Sudan agreed to make it easier for international aid workers to enter Darfur, an action perhaps taken only because of possible UN economic sanctions. If the regime of President Omar el-Bashir fails to restrain the pillaging of villages, then the UN should consider an international no-fly zone over Darfur.

The international Islamic community has been silent about this slaughter of Muslims in Africa. And even Europe appears cool to UN action. Yet over the past 15 years, the UN has learned that major humanitarian crises often require forceful intervention in sovereign nations.

After supporting terrorists for years - including Osama bin Laden - Sudan's regime has been trying to get on Washington's good side. It has cooperated in the war on terrorism, even though it is still listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the US.

The lure of Sudan's oil reserves makes it difficult for some nations to be tough on the regime. And the US may be reluctant to be too tough to avoid jeopardizing peace talks over the war in the south (which has seen more than 2 million deaths).

Darfur's religious and ethnic conflict need not become another blight on the UN's record. Preventing genocide should be everyone's business. Darfur needs protection now.

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