The United Nations Security Council this week passed a resolution approving a peacekeeping force for Sudan's western region of Darfur. Hearing that, there might be the temptation to think the international community had finally gotten its act together to bring an end to the killing and raping of tens of thousands and the displacing of millions of people. But with the suffering in Darfur, nothing is as it appears.
In the first place, the UN's troops will not be going into the region anytime soon. In fact they will not be going in until the government of Sudan gives them the green light. This is the same government whose top officials have sanctioned and assisted the violent activities of the janjaweed militia, one of the groups which have created a situation which the Bush administration has labeled "genocide."
Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, prefers to keep the 7,000 soldiers now in Darfur under the banner of the African Union rather than see most of those soldiers "re-hatted" under the UN's command. The resolution allows for up to 22,500 troops and police officers and would be a much more effective counter not only to the violent activities of the janjaweed but also to similar tactics used by several other militias in the region.
Neither the plight of the people of Darfur nor the inability of the international community to alleviate it is new. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has traveled to Darfur. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the troubled area, as did his successor, Condoleezza Rice. Rice's former deputy secretary, Robert Zoellick, went multiple times. The United States and other nations have poured billions of dollars into relief efforts. Non-governmental organizations have sent hundreds of volunteers to the region, but they are powerless to stop armed militias and the AU's lightly armed force is clearly incapable of bring peace to the area (which is approximately the size of France).
In an effort to persuade Bashir to accept a larger, more robust UN force as well as to move toward better relations with Washington, the Bush administration dispatched Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, to Khartoum. Frazer told reporters her message would be "ending the suffering of the people of Darfur." Sensitive to charges there had not been enough consultation with Sudanese officials on the UN's plans, Frazer even trooped off to Khartoum with a letter from President Bush, not that it appeared to be of immediate help.
Frazer and her team met with a series of lower level officials before Bashir received her in what she later described as a "cordial" meeting at his home. The result: Bashir agreed to send his foreign minister to Washington for more "consultations" but Frazer doesn't know when he'll arrive. "I think it should be sooner rather than later," she said.
Still, senior State Department officials see this week's diplomatic mission as a necessary step in getting Sudan's government to accept the larger UN force. "Short of regime change, we can't just go in there. We have to work with this government," one official said.
So, the diplomacy continues. Frazer goes to Khartoum. Sudan's foreign minister is expected in Washington. Perhaps the possibility of a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Sudanese president was dangled for mid-September when world leaders gather at the UN. Maybe Bashir is still holding out for that most senior level "consultation." Or perhaps Sudan's leader finds the current situation acceptable. Perhaps he's looking for more benefits from the international community.
The Security Council finally passes a resolution over Sudan's objections but no one is looking for blue-hatted peacekeepers in Darfur in the near future. Sudan's allies — China (which has oil interests in Sudan) and Qatar (the only Arab country now on the council) — did not vote for the resolution, but China, which could have used its veto, did not, and senior administration officials see that as a big plus.
The result of all this diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing: the violence against the people of Darfur will continue next week and the week after, and the week after that as well.
While the test of political will between Sudan's government and the international community continues, the stark truth of something else Assistant Secretary Frazer said could not be more apparent: "There is not going to be an easy or simple solution to Darfur." Somehow, one has the impression Darfurians who now try to find safety in refugee camps already have gotten that message from both their own government and the rest of the world community.
By Charles Wolfson