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Darfur Crisis Intensifies


Sudan is launching a new offensive against rebel forces in Darfur, threatening a return to all-out civil war. Despite last week’s Security Council resolution transferring peacekeeping from the African Union to the United Nations, Khartoum refuses to allow a joint peacekeeping effort with African forces under U.N. control.

The African Union said earlier this week it would leave the war-ravaged Darfur region by the end of September if Sudan does not allow U.N. peacekeepers to take over its mission, which lacks sufficient manpower and resources for the task. Richard Cockett, Africa editor of the Economist magazine, says the international community is now facing the worst-case scenario, which people have feared for “months and years.” Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Cockett says the African Union is being “chucked out” and the U.N. is not going to be allowed in, “thus creating a complete security vacuum in Darfur into which it looks like the Sudanese government is now pouring thousands of troops.”

The Darfur conflict began three-and-a-half years ago when rebels attacked government positions, saying Khartoum had neglected the remote western region. Sudan is charged with arming militias to crush the rebellion, using a savage campaign of rape and murder. More than 200,000 people have died, and an estimated 2 million more have been displaced in the fighting. The United States and other countries have described the situation in Darfur as genocide. But the worst of it, Richard Cockett says, is that the options for the international community appear so limited. And, he adds, nobody really has any answers. The United States has said it will keep up the pressure on Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, but Mr. Cockett questions whether Washington has “much leverage left.” Because the government in Khartoum is refusing to talk “with anyone about the matter,” that leaves only the military option of invading Sudan, but Richard Cockett says for Western countries to send a large invasion force into a Muslim country in the heart of Africa “in the present climate” is probably not a good idea.

Tanzanian journalist Mwamoyo Hamza says people in the region are discouraged about prospects for a resolution to the crisis in Darfur. He says Sudan’s recent decision to “resolve the crisis” by using military power of its own spells “disaster for the civilians.”

Some analysts suggest that China might be able to play a key role in persuading Khartoum to accept U.N. forces. But Richard Cockett says he is skeptical, considering that both China and Russia abstained on last week’s Security Council resolution to authorize a peacekeeping force. Myamoya Hamza also thinks China is unlikely to be willing to play that role due to its dependency on Africa’s oil reserves. He says “most analysts” believe the African Union still has the most political leverage with Khartoum.

But Richard Cockett says he is not optimistic about the prospects for a diplomatic solution, noting that over the years the international community has tried “every combination” in its efforts to come up with a solution that “might be palatable” to Khartoum. Meanwhile, an African Union spokesman has said the AU Peace and Security Council will meet on September 18 to decide the future of its peacekeeping force.