Deadline on Darfur

August 04, 2004

IN A MONTH'S time, the U.N. Security Council expects the marauding Arab militias of western Sudan to be disarmed. An unrealistic expectation it may be, but the U.N. deadline put Sudan on notice last week that consequences will follow its failure to stem the violence against African Muslims in the Darfur region. The Security Council resolution reflects a growing reluctance to let Sudan deal with this humanitarian crisis in its own sweet time. There are ample reasons to press Khartoum to act now.

The ethnic violence in Darfur has claimed as many as 30,000 lives and displaced 1.2 million Sudanese since fighting broke out between black African rebels and government-backed militias in January 2003. The impact on Darfur villagers has been devastating. A campaign of pillage, rape and murder has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. The crush of refugees has left hundreds of villagers moving from one camp to another, waiting a month or more to receive the basics: plastic sheeting, blankets, rations.

The World Health Organization estimates that 240 to 440 Darfur residents are dying each day. Khartoum's efforts to rein in the militias have been unconvincing. Sudan claims it has arrested more than 200 leaders of the Arab militias known as Janjaweed since it pledged July 3 to disarm the groups. But well-known, warlord-like sheiks remain in control.

Their outlaw reign must end.

The security situation plays havoc with relief organizations' attempts to reach those in dire need. That's why Sudanese officials must expedite their efforts. The government, to be sure, has taken steps to improve access to the region. Travel restrictions have eased considerably, and visa requests for aid workers are processed within days, not weeks.

The U.N. resolution addresses one aspect of the crisis in Darfur. But members of the international community must live up to their commitments on other fronts. The African Union promised to send monitors to the region, but they haven't been deployed. The Arab League has protested military intervention in Sudan, but except for Egypt, its members haven't provided any assistance for Darfur's Muslims.

When the United Nations appealed to its members in the spring for aid to Darfur, $349 million was pledged. But so far, only $158 million has been received, led by the United States, Britain, the European Commission and the Netherlands. Germany promised $105 million for the post-civil war reconstruction of Sudan, but Darfur residents have more immediate needs. France has stepped up its assistance on the Chad-Sudan border, where many refugees have fled. But along with Spain, Italy, Japan and other nations, it could do more: Give cash, offer logistical support or help airlift aid to the area now that the rains have made roads nearly impassable.

Because in a month, as the rains intensify and the militias march on, as many as 13,000 more Sudanese will have died.

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