Outside editorial: Darfur peacekeeping stalls before it starts

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When the United Nations Security Council approved an expanded peacekeeping force for the Darfur region of Sudan last summer, some Western politicians may have concluded - prematurely - that one of the world's worst humanitarian crises was at last going to be relieved. If so, that's exactly what Omar Hassan al-Bashir was hoping for. Mr. Bashir, Sudan's Arab dictator, has made an art form out of confounding Western attempts to end his genocidal repression of Darfur's African population. His pattern is to resist international pressure until it reaches a peak. He then appears to give in, waits until Western attention wanders and returns to intransigence.

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Last June, after President Bush announced new U.S. sanctions, European leaders talked of imposing a no-fly zone and even China pressed for a concession, Mr. Bashir agreed to replace 7,000 African Union peacekeepers with a 26,000-member force that the African Union and the United Nations would jointly organize. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed a success, the Security Council ratified the deal at the end of July and Mr. Ban began raising troops. Now, with the deployment due in two weeks and the world's attention elsewhere, Mr. Bashir has dug in his heels. He is refusing to approve non-African troops for the force, including Nepalese, Thai and Nordic soldiers who would be crucial to its effectiveness.

A U.N. peacekeeping official warned the Security Council on Thursday that the deployment had been endangered by Mr. Bashir's stance and that a sign-off on the troops was urgently needed. Yet the assembled ambassadors didn't react much. That's probably because Sudan's obstructionism is not the United Nations' only crippling problem: Mr. Ban has been unable to find countries willing to supply two dozen helicopters needed to give the peacekeepers mobility in a territory the size of France.

Mr. Bashir's behavior was predictable - in fact, we were among those who predicted it last summer. But the failure of European or Arab governments to supply helicopters is a disgrace. Over and over, leaders such as Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have said the situation in Darfur is "intolerable." Yet, although NATO countries among them have 18,000 helicopters, none have been made available for Darfur. No wonder Mr. Bashir feels free to thumb his nose at the United Nations.

The Bush administration, which called the campaign in Darfur genocide more than three years ago, has done more than most other governments. It provides airlift for peacekeepers and is paying for the construction of their camps. U.S. helicopters might be counterproductive in Darfur even if Mr. Bashir would accept them. But the Bush administration needs to step up its efforts to see that the U.N. force is deployed in January. That means helping Mr. Ban get his aircraft and simultaneously renewing the pressure on Mr. Bashir. The cynical strongman is counting on a failure of will by NATO and the Security Council; it will take an effort by President Bush to disappoint him.

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