Darfur Needs More Than Words

The crisis crept up slowly. Must it also be resolved slowly? Ethnic cleansing of African Muslim villagers by the tens of thousands has been going on for more than a year in Sudan. The world's awareness of this slaughter - 30,000 to 50,000 - began last March. Only a month ago the UN Security Council finally gave a 30-day ultimatum to Sudan's Arab-dominated government to end military support of the rogue, camel-riding militia killing civilians in the province of Darfur, and to rein in those militia, known as the Janjaweed.

The deadline passed Monday, and Tuesday the UN staff will report on Sudan's compliance. On Thursday, the Council meets to discuss possibly taking action (or not). By most accounts, the European and Chinese members are reluctant to impose economic sanctions, as the US proposes, let alone intervene militarily.

Sudan, meanwhile, takes just enough small steps - letting in aid convoys and some 300 peacekeepers from Nigeria and Rwanda - to keep the UN hoping it can avoid taking action, despite new reports of Sudanese aircraft bombing villages.

Once again, the UN's reputation is on the line, as it was in recent crises over Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. Its members have conflicting interests in Sudan, from buying oil exports to not wanting to offend the Muslim world by "invading" Sudan so soon after the US occupied Iraq. How much will those interests be laid aside for the sake of thousands of people?

For now, the Council will probably take an easy way out by putting pressure on Sudan to accept a few thousand troops from the member states of the 53-nation African Union (AU).

Those additional African forces are needed to do more than the 300 AU troops are doing now, which is simply monitoring a shaky cease-fire between Sudan and two anti-Khartoum rebel groups in Darfur.

But the non-Arab villagers, as well as the thousands displaced in international aid camps, need protection urgently, and Sudan is demanding a settlement with the rebels before it lets in more AU troops. Many of those villages prefer Western troops to African troops.

Despite much diplomacy over Darfur, the handwringing just goes on, as it did over previous crises thrown to the UN.

In coming days, the Security Council must offer Darfur's African civilians more than words.

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