In Darfur, Africa left to take lead

The UN says 'crimes against humanity,' not 'genocide,' were committed in Sudan; sends problem to world court.

A new United Nations report doesn't call the killing in Darfur 'genocide," but it may provide African nations with enough evidence to leverage the key players to stop fighting.

The report, for example, documents that Sudanese government officials were involved in ordering government-backed militias to carry out "indiscriminate attacks ... rape and ... pillaging." Some 70,000 people have died and 2.3 million have been displaced in western Sudan over the past two years.

The report, issued Monday, also urges the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, to investigate further.

But the Bush administration, which has been the world's prime proponent of action on Darfur, is balking at using the ICC, because it fears the court may someday prosecute US soldiers. And besides, experts say the ICC would be only one part of a what needs to be a comprehensive plan to stop the violence.

The debate of using the ICC is another sign of the international community's ultimate unwillingness to take serious action, says Richard Cornwell of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. Even if the report had determined there was genocide, he notes, "What would the world have done - had all the lawyers continue to argue over what to do?"

Instead, he says, there's new evidence the African Union, a sort of UN for Africa, wants to address this problem on its own. "The AU is determined to see this thing through - and prove themselves" capable of solving Africa's problems, says Mr. Cornwell.

Indeed, they're behind peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels, which are slated to restart this month. In the negotiations, which will take place in Nigeria, a sealed list of suspects from the report may be used as leverage to persuade Sudan's leaders to resolve the situation.

One hint that Sudan's government is already moving toward peace in Darfur is that it recently put Vice President Ali Osman Taha in charge of peace talks. This is the same man who finalized a Jan. 9 peace deal ending Sudan's other war - a conflict between north and south that had been Africa's longest. "This is a sign they're getting serious at last," says Cornwell.

Also, the AU is the only body with boots on the ground in Darfur. Eventually it plans to have 3,300 troops in a region the size of France - although there are only about 1,400 there now.

And even with that troop presence, violence against civilians in Darfur has continued. Last week the UN said 4,000 people fled their homes. In the past two months, at least 25,000 people have been displaced, many because of attacks by Arab Janjaweed militia, which are allegedly supported by the government.

These attacks - as well as a fresh international round of debate without action - may provide extra impetus for the AU to ask for more money from the US and European Union to fund a larger Darfur troop presence. Already the US has given some $100 million and logistical support to the AU mission.

Ultimately there's a crucial difference between the AU and the international community, observers say. The AU is made up of members who have a serious interest in solving the Darfur problem. These include Africa's economic powers like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, who could trade more with oil-rich Sudan if peace prevailed. Also, many African nations lose out on foreign investment when high-profile conflicts scare away international investors.

Yet the AU is still an untested start-up organization that opened its doors about a year ago. It hasn't yet proved it can handle a conflict as large and complex as Darfur.

As for the international community, some observers expect eventual compromise on the ICC issue - because political pressure for at least some action on Darfur can't be ignored. "It's almost inconceivable that a compromise won't be found," says David Mozersky of the International Crisis Group here.

The US has proposed a new tribunal, modeled on the court in Tanzania now trying war-crimes suspects from the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The US has even offered to pay to get this court established.

The biggest argument against starting a new court, which would be costly and time-consuming, is that, "The ICC is up and running," says Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "It's an existing court, and it was created precisely for situations like Darfur."

The US is also gearing up to propose a UN Security Council resolution that would impose travel bans and asset freezes on people responsible for the Darfur violence.

Indeed, merely getting one court or another involved isn't enough, Mr. Dicker argues: "By no means is that a panacea." The Security Council also needs to deploy peacekeepers and impose "certain kinds of sanctions." Otherwise, he says, this would be "a negatively defining moment in its history" in which "its credibility will rightly suffer."

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