America's and Africa's duty in Darfur

A voice of conscience is on a tour of American cities. Former Marine captain Brian Steidle, who saw firsthand the results of Darfur's black Arab Muslims killing black African Muslims, is one of thousands of Americans trying to end that genocide in Sudan.

Mr. Steidle was assigned to help the meager 7,000 soldiers from the 53-nation African Union (AU) operating in Darfur, a province the size of France where 180,000 people have been killed and 2 million more forced to flee their villages by marauding bands backed by Khartoum.

His eyewitness accounts and photographs have helped generate more American interest in Darfur than any other global humanitarian issue, according to the US State Department. From campuses to churches, Darfur has become a rallying cry over the problems of Africa's many ethnic wars, a global indifference to mass killings, and the perverse power politics of big nations in putting other interests ahead of such moral atrocities.

Americans like Steidle are making a difference by pushing the Bush administration to act tougher on the regime in Sudan. Last month, President Bush called for United Nations troops, perhaps with NATO assistance, to replace or supplement the ill-equipped African forces. The Senate, too, passed a resolution urging Bush to improve Darfur's security. And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has cited the UN Charter in justifying intervention in Sudan.

Friday, AU foreign ministers are due to meet and decide whether to back the call for UN forces in Darfur. But Sudan - itself an AU member - has been campaigning against it. The AU has already stood up to Sudan by recently denying it the chairmanship of this regional group. For its own credibility and for the sake of Africa's future, the organization must recognize its own logistical incapabilities and seek UN help in this urgent security task, despite concerns about usurping Sudan's sovereignty or NATO operating in Africa.

Donor nations to Sudan should also use their financial leverage over Khartoum. Foreign aid is flowing to the country after a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war over government control in the mainly Christian south. US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick wisely linked such aid to Darfur this week.

The UN would be stretched in mustering a Darfur force. It has more peacekeeping operations around the world than anytime in its history - with more troops on duty (60,700) than any country except the US. And China and Russia would be reluctant to cross Sudan and vote for such deployment in the Security Council.

NATO is the best immediate alternative to help Darfur's refugees return safely to their homes. But some European nations in NATO oppose such a risky, long-term role, even though they are quite willing to help UN forces in their former African colonies. (Africa now has 70 percent of UN peacekeeping forces.)

That leaves Bush, nudged to act by Americans such as Steidle, to keep bearing the torch for Darfur and find a way for the global community to support a stronger force or push Sudan's regime to make peace in a province whose plight is testing the world's conscience. The test should not go on for long.

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