A panel of experts in Washington has urged even stronger international pressure on the government of Sudan, saying the situation in that country's Darfur region remains unacceptable. One European participant says Khartoum needs to be put on firm notice about what he asserts is continuing support for terrorist groups by the Sudan government, or hardline Islamist elements within it.
Amid uncertainties about the planned deployment of an African military force to Darfur, and continuing alarm about the humanitarian situation, panelists provided blunt assessments of what is needed at this stage.
Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute points to what he calls a troubling lack of support from key Western nations for a strong response to killings and human rights violations in Darfur:
"Even among the so-called great powers, France, Russia and China, the infamous axis of veto in the [U.N.] Security Council, again pose major roadblocks to gaining any useful U.N. resolution, and particularly disturbing to me is Beijing's alliance with Khartoum, which is spurred by China's growing need for oil and Sudan's desire for weaponry," he said.
Another panelist, who has appeared before several congressional committees, is John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group.
While U.S. pressure has succeeded in bringing the U.N. Security Council to the edge of imposing sanctions on Khartoum, he says the Bush administration still has not gone far enough, and calls for turning the U.S. bark into bite.
"We have not pursued any meaningful punitive action nor any measures of accountability, despite having 16 months now to witness the slow-motion unfolding of an ethnic cleansing campaign in the West," he said.
Mr. Prendergast says the Bush administration and European governments must consider stronger action, including the positioning of military forces near Darfur. And he repeats his call for bolder steps to hold individuals in the Sudanese government responsible, and prosecute them, for human rights violations.
Mr. Prendergast referred to what he called success the United States had during the 1990s in pressuring the Sudan government to reduce support for terrorist groups.
However, another member of the panel believes such support by Khartoum, or Islamist elements within the Sudan government, continues.
Ronald Sandee, an official of the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, had these disquieting remarks which he says reflect his personal view rather than those of the Netherlands government:
"By now we can say that Sudan has again assumed a role as one of the training centers of al-Qaida and Mujahadeen fighters," he said. "Like in the first half of the 1990's, Sudan contains an ample number of training camps where Muslim extremists and jihadists are taught the techniques of guerrilla warfare. They come from Europe, Central Asia, Middle Eastern countries, and from sub-Saharan Africa. After being trained, they are facilitated by an organization that is still in place and is able to deliver high quality false documents, means of communication, and organize travel arrangements. The newly-trained fighters in Sudan turn up in the southern Sahel countries, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq to fight coalition forces.
Mr. Sandee calls Sudan a hub of terrorist logistical and financial support for Palestinian groups, particularly Hamas, as well as al-Qaida and other groups, including those attempting to destabilize Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. Without citing sources, he says training camps may be located in remote areas of Sudan near Eritrea, north of Port Sudan, or near the Sudan border with Libya.
While it remains an open question whether the Sudan government itself is supporting these camps, Mr. Sandee asserts it is likely, as he puts it, certain Islamist hardliners must know what is going on.
The Washington panel discussion came amid the latest statements by U.N. officials as well as Sudan government officials, concerning responsibility for atrocities in Darfur, and prospects for deployment of the two-thousand-strong African Union force.
John Prendergast believes the Sudan government has been emboldened by what it likely considers to be a lack of international resolve. "The [Sudan] government realizes now that we have, basically what is developing as a priority list, and it does just enough on the higher items of that priority list, to stay off our hit list," he said.
Also appearing at Friday's panel discussion was Republican Congressman Frank Wolf who traveled to Darfur in July. Mr. Wolf was instrumental in having Congress approve $95 million in emergency aid for victims of violence in Darfur, and has been urging the Bush administration to formally label events there as genocide.