Help overdue in Darfur

January 26, 2006

The African Union recently acknowledged what has long been obvious: It has neither the resources nor the mandate to stop the genocide in Darfur. This is actually good news.

It frees the United Nations to take over, buttressing AU forces with troops of its own as well as providing much needed equipment and logistical support. This larger force would also have the authority to pre-empt the violence and bloodshed, which has so far resulted in the deaths of 400,000 innocents in western Sudan and displaced two million more.

There have been hints that President Bush will call for such a takeover, perhaps in his State of the Union address later this month. We strongly urge him to do so. With the United States about to assume the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, the moment is particularly opportune.

The impulse of African nations to deal with their own problems, and the inclination of the rest of the world to let them do it, is generally laudable. But the Darfur tragedy is far too huge and has gone on far too long.

African Union troops number only 5,000, half the minimum U.N. officials believe are needed to keep the peace between African rebels and the Janjaweed militias backed by the Islamic Sudanese government in Khartoum. Further, AU peacekeepers are only permitted to respond to violence, not to initiate moves that might prevent it.

Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy in Sudan, is pushing to make public a list of countries believed to be selling weapons to the warring factions, fueling the conflict in violation of an arms embargo.

He's right; it's well past time to be naming names. But the move is also part of a broader strategy to more deeply involve the international community in a wrenching struggle exacting its cruelest toll on non-combatants murdered and driven from their homes as part of what is believed to be a government-backed campaign of extermination.

The African Union has done its best, operating as it does with the Khartoum regime among its membership. But analysts believe the U.N. Blue Helmets can actually end the conflict. They must be allowed to do it.

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