Slaughter in Sudan

May 20, 2004

JANJAWEED, they're called; the Arab horsemen who sweep into the impoverished tribal villages of western Sudan, shooting men, raping women, kidnapping children, stealing livestock, setting anything left ablaze.

Over the past year, more than 1 million black Muslims have been driven from their homes, starving and destitute, by these marauding thugs doing the dirty work of the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum that wants to eliminate support for Darfur rebels seeking to share national riches and power.

Some of the refugees have fled to neighboring Chad, but most are trapped in a hellish limbo: lacking the basic necessities of life, still threatened by the janjaweed and government forces, but unreachable by international relief agencies.

President Bush and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan have each condemned the atrocities, and called for aid workers to be given immediate, unimpeded access. Neither is in a position to apply much more than diplomatic pressure, but that will have to be enough.

Unless the world is spurred quickly to rescue the displaced villagers and ensure their safe return home, the likely result is massive suffering and death on a scale comparable to the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis by the Hutu military in Rwanda 10 years ago.

Victims of what appears to be a systematic campaign to eliminate them as a people from Sudan, the Darfur tribes may also be casualties of the U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and its weakened global influence.

The Bush administration is widely credited with an extraordinary effort to broker a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and black Christians in the southern end of the country, after a 20-year conflict. Humanitarian agencies now want the U.S. to lead an international campaign on behalf of Darfur backed by military force.

But as the Khartoum regime seems to have calculated, neither the will nor the resources are available to make such a threat stick. The United States is stretched thin in Iraq, and the prison abuse scandal there has undermined its moral leadership on human rights issues.

Mr. Annan raised the specter of military action under U.N. auspices, but it's doubtful he'd find much support in a world body that elected Sudan to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. In fact, most of the world has been conspicuously silent on the plight of Darfur.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and top congressional leader on human rights issues, believes the best hope is for world pressure to convince the Sudanese government that its own interests suffer with the people of Darfur. There have been indications after Sept. 11, 2001, that Sudan does not want to be viewed as a pariah.

What Khartoum needs to hear now is that the destruction of Darfur won't be tolerated.

"I fear the world will wake up 10 years from now and wonder why more was not done to protect humanity," Mr. Wolf wrote in appeal to Mr. Annan. "The evidence is clear. We cannot say that we did not know."

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