Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Monday, April 26, 2004; Page A22
TWO WEEKS AGO, Sudan's government agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire
in Darfur, a region in the western part of the country. The cease-fire
was necessary because of the government's own actions: It has carried
out aerial bombings of civilians and armed a militia that has terrorized
villages, burning crops, raping women and flailing men with studded
whips. As many as 1 million people have been chased from their homes and
have no food stocks to support themselves. Doctors Without Borders, an
intrepid charity that has 30 foreign staffers in Darfur, reports that
malnutrition among children is rising precipitously. The aim of the
cease-fire is to allow food deliveries before the rainy season makes
roads impassable, probably six weeks from now. If the world misses that
window, mass starvation becomes probable.
The cease-fire, however, has not been honored. Sudan's Islamic and Arab
government has a long history of denying humanitarian access to
civilians as part of its long war with Christian and animist Africans in
the south. It is applying those same tactics to Darfur, whose people,
though Islamic, share the southerners' aspiration for regional autonomy.
A senior United Nations official who was supposed to visit Darfur under
the terms of the cease-fire has been denied a visa. A U.N. delegation
was delayed at the border.
Exiles from the region claim that the government's purpose in stalling
humanitarian visits is to cover up evidence of its atrocities. It is
attempting to conceal mass graves, collecting bodies from the sites of
known atrocities and hiding them elsewhere. It is removing militia
leaders so that U.N. inspection teams won't question them and issuing
death certificates in their names so that nobody will seek them out
elsewhere. It's bad enough that evidence is being destroyed while the
cease-fire is not implemented. It's worse that a million people are
running out of food.
Outsiders led by Kenya, Norway, Britain and the United States have been
successfully mediating a peace deal in the long-running north-south
conflict. A final breakthrough may be announced in the next week or two.
Although this progress owes much to international pressure -- and in
particular, the Sudanese government's fear that, after the attacks on
Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration was serious about punishing
rogue states -- the United States and its allies seem reluctant to apply
more pressure on the Darfur issue. They have yet to ask for a U.N.
Security Council resolution authorizing coercive force, for example,
even though U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has spoken of the
destruction of Darfur's villages in the same context as the Rwandan
genocide. They worry that excessive pressure will cause Sudan's
government to pull out of talks with the south or that Sudan will refuse
to permit U.N.-authorized monitors to implement an eventual north-south
But Sudan should not be allowed to get away with denying U.N. officials
visas and refusing to live up to its cease-fire promises. If it can do
that with impunity, it will assume that it has no need to live up to any
promises it makes in a north-south settlement.