The US may still be talking tough about how Sudan's government should prevent further violence in the country's beleaguered Darfur region. But the reality may be that worldwide pressure on Sudan about Darfur is receding, even as the crisis continues.
America's new deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, attended a conference in Norway this week at which 60 nations pledged some $4.5 billion for rebuilding war-torn southern Sudan, where a separate 21-year conflict ended in January. Mr. Zoellick said the US promise of $1.7 billion for southern reconstruction was contingent on the Khartoum government's preventing what Washington has called Darfur's genocide.
"We need to see an end to atrocities and the return of peace in Darfur," he said.
But US leverage on the issue is clearly limited. For one thing, observers point out, a group of newcomer nations at the donor table this week included China and other Asian countries, which are hungering to tap Sudan's oil reserves. China has consistently supported Sudan at the United Nations, when the US and others have tried to levy sanctions on Khartoum. China's National Petroleum Corporation is heavily invested in the Sudanese oil industry, and China's appearance at the donor table may be an effort to increase its influence in a nation that is the source of as much as 10 percent of its oil.
Also, European nations did not appear to follow the US lead on making aid to Sudan contingent on improvement in Darfur. European contributions included about $765 million from the European Commission, $545 million from Britain, $250 million from Norway, and $220 million from the Netherlands. The money will provide food, assist refugees, and help build schools, roads, and hospitals.
Finally, the overall initial price tag for southern reconstruction is pegged at $7.9 billion. Making up the difference: Revenues from the 320,000 barrels of oil coming out of Sudanese soil daily. This makes the government less reliant on donor money and the strings sometimes attached to it.
Meanwhile, the attacks on civilians in Darfur continue. This week, the United Nations and the African Union reported the "total destruction" of an entire village in South Darfur by 200 militiamen riding horses and camels. The number of people killed wasn't known. The UN and AU implored the government to take action against the militia's leader, Nasir Al Tijani Adel Kaadir.
"Two years into the crisis in Darfur, the humanitarian, security and political situation is deteriorating," said a report by the International Crisis Group, released last month. "The international community is failing to protect civilians itself or influence the Sudanese government to do so."
The Darfur crisis began in February 2003, when rebels, who say they were being politically marginalized, attacked government positions in western Sudan. The government responded by supporting armed militiamen who have killed an estimated 180,000 people and displaced 2 million more, according to the UN.
Late last month, the UN Security Council voted to refer details of alleged war crimes committed by specific Sudanese government and militia leaders to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The move had been delayed over the Bush Administration's objections to the ICC, which the White House fears will unjustly accuse American troops of war crimes. The US abstained from the ICC vote in the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the UN's World Food Program announced April 8 that it will have to make drastic cuts in rations for the more than 1 million people it's now feeding in Darfur. To try to stretch current reserves through the traditionally hot summer months when food is scarce, it will cut one part of its daily ration in half.
But US officials are clearly intent on at least keeping Darfur on the agenda. Zoellick is expected to visit Sudan, including Darfur, this week.
One sign of how the issue still resonates with at least some US citizens: Student activists persuaded the Harvard Corporation, which oversees Harvard University, this month to divest the $4.4 million it had invested in PetroChina, which is owned by China National Petroleum Corporation.
• Wire services were used in this report.