Sunday, January 29, 2006

An Opportunity for Darfur

The Washington Post
Sunday, January 29, 2006; B06

THE BUSH administration has an opportunity next month to lead the world out of its paralysis on Darfur. The brave but undermanned African Union force that has tried to stabilize the territory is facing the end of its mandate: Western donors may keep it going for a few more months, but they're not going to go beyond that. The donors want a United Nations peacekeeping force to take its place; the African Union, which used to insist that it could do the job alone, now appears to have dropped its objections to a U.N. takeover. The question is how big the new U.N. force will be and whether it will get contributions of mobile troops from militarily advanced countries. The administration should use the presidency of the U.N. Security Council, which it holds in February, to push for the sort of peacekeeping force that could actually make peace possible.

The news from the region leaves no doubt that an expanded force is necessary. Attacks on civilians, carried out both by the proxies of Sudan's government and by rebels, are growing more frequent; relief operations, on which half of Darfur's population now depends, are increasingly disrupted by insecurity. The violence is spreading across the border: Darfur-based rebels are contributing to the fear of a breakdown of order in Chad. Even though upward of 300,000 people have died from violence and hunger since the start of Darfur's crisis three years ago, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently warned of "a much greater calamity than what we have seen so far."

The Bush administration, which has championed the African Union deployment because it wants Africa to develop the ability to fix its own problems, is part of the new consensus favoring a shift to a U.N. force. This has financial advantages: The African Union has muddled through with ad hoc contributions, mainly from the European Union, the United States and Canada, whereas the funding for U.N. peacekeepers is automatic once the Security Council has issued a mandate, and the financial burden is more widely distributed.

But it's not clear how hard the administration will push to make this shift more than just a budgetary maneuver. Having described Darfur's crisis as a genocide, the United States should surely aim for an expanded force. Jan Pronk, U.N. special envoy to Sudan, recently suggested a tripling of the African Union deployment to 20,000. It should also want a jump in logistical capacity: To be effective in an area the size of Texas, the U.N. troops will need plenty of aircraft, including helicopters. To secure serious troop commitments from U.N. member states, the Bush administration may have to spend political capital. The coming month will show whether President Bush's team believes that Darfur is worth that.

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