New chapter for Darfur

April 15, 2005

JUST DAYS after the U.N. Security Council took its toughest stand yet against the genocide of African tribal communities in Darfur, the Sudanese government-backed Arab militia embarked on a daylong attack with a sweep of savagery unmatched since early this year.

The brutal episode was a defiant gesture. It demonstrates that once deep cultural and ethnic hatreds have been unleashed in service of a regime that's never faced any consequences, a great deal more than tough talk - even with the prospect of war crimes prosecution - will be required.

As Robert B. Zoellick, the new deputy secretary of state, becomes the latest American envoy to train his skills on this stubborn conflict, his daunting mission is to make clear that the global community is prepared to use both economic and military power to bring peace to Darfur and to punish those who thwart the effort. That means sending in additional peacekeepers to buttress the African Union's inadequate forces, developing a mechanism to enforce the no-fly zone and arms embargo imposed by the United Nations, and securing greater cooperation from Russia and China, trading partners of the Islamist regime in Khartoum.

Some hopeful signs have emerged. Mr. Zoellick, a respected negotiator in the Bush inner circle, is scheduled to tour Darfur today following talks in Khartoum - a visit intended to showcase U.S. determination to end the violence.

This week, the deputy secretary committed $1.7 billion in U.S. aid for reconstruction and humanitarian purposes in war-ravaged southern Sudan, where African Christians fought the Arab government in Khartoum for 20 years. But he said no additional aid would be forthcoming to the government unless the regime stops attacks on Darfur villagers - innocent men, women and children purportedly helping rebels - and punishes those responsible for the atrocities.

Mr. Zoellick may also get some help in applying economic pressure on Khartoum from a grass-roots movement said to be building in this country to ban investments in companies that do business with Sudan. This month, Harvard University, which manages the nation's largest academic endowment, decided to sell its shares of a Chinese state-owned company that has invested more than $1 billion in Sudanese oil - money that finances the marauders.

None of these developments can be considered a breakthrough. But they are moving in the right direction. Any progress toward ending this scorched-earth campaign - which has taken more than 180,000 lives and left millions homeless - must be encouraged.

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