Time for Plan B on Darfur

November 24, 2006

At this time when Americans traditionally give thanks for the freedoms and relative abundance of their lives, it's worth also pausing to consider those most wretchedly at the other end of the spectrum.

Sadly, there is some competition for that dubious distinction. But surely most any list of the world's most forsaken people would likely be topped by the hapless innocents of Darfur - tribal villagers beaten, raped, murdered and burned out of their homes in a nearly four-year ethnic conflict the Sudanese government won't allow to end, apparently until all are dead.

In the latest outrage, the Islamist regime in Khartoum is reneging on a deal struck just last week that would at last have allowed United Nations peacekeepers into the war ravaged region. According to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir had agreed to admit the peacekeepers as part of a force combined with African Union troops. But, as is Mr. al-Bashir's standard practice, he attached so many conditions, the agreement is worthless.

The United States and its allies in the U.N. should no longer meekly accept these stall tactics. Patience is no virtue when millions of lives are at stake. American officials have issued the vague threat that they would implement an unspecified "Plan B" if no agreement on peacekeepers in is place by Jan. 1. It may well be time to follow through with serious punitive actions that hit Sudan in the soft underbelly of its pocketbook.

President al-Bashir has repeatedly played U.S. envoys for suckers because he keeps getting away with it, and there's every sign that he's up to the same thing again. He knows any threat from the United States related to Darfur is likely to be offset by the desire of American intelligence officials to maintain their pipeline to Sudanese sources on al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

Further, Libyan President Muammar el Kadafi, who played host this week to a mini-summit of African nations to discuss Darfur, seems most interested in reinforcing Khartoum's resistance to the U.N. peacekeepers.

That's a real tragedy. The ultimate rescue for Darfur doubtless can best be conducted by Sudan's African and Arab neighbors as well as its financial partners in China and Russia. But so far, they too, seem intent only on fostering their own interests.

Perhaps Plan B should be a covert diplomatic operation aimed at launching such a rescue using whatever combination of inducements and pressure is required. Success would be something all could be thankful for.

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