Julie Flint: Quiet diplomacy will not save Darfur

The UN must conclude this week that the Sudan government has failed to fulfill its obligations

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Even in a best-case scenario, the World Health Organisation says, 110,000 people will die in Darfur by year end. Others believe it could be as many as 350,000. Only one thing is sure: the "best-case" estimate is conservative. It requires that the government of Sudan, a past master at obstructing humanitarian relief, give full and immediate access to Darfur, and that isn't going to happen.

Even in a best-case scenario, the World Health Organisation says, 110,000 people will die in Darfur by year end. Others believe it could be as many as 350,000. Only one thing is sure: the "best-case" estimate is conservative. It requires that the government of Sudan, a past master at obstructing humanitarian relief, give full and immediate access to Darfur, and that isn't going to happen.

Slowly evolving, deniable death by hunger and disease is one of the favourite weapons of the Arab-supremacist, fundamentalist generals who seized power in Sudan 15 years ago. They used it in the Nuba mountains and oilfields of southern Sudan - and they're using it now in Darfur.

When the international community first reacted to the slaughter in Darfur, a predominantly African but wholly Muslim region of northern Sudan that has suffered decades of neglect and abuse, Khartoum blocked efforts to save lives with an array of stratagems. It denied access, demanded that UN drugs be tested in Sudanese labs, insisted that storage fees be paid on items the government itself was holding up. In the last month, despite guaranteeing unimpeded access, it has opened some doors but closed others. Most imaginatively, an aircraft delivering relief supplies was held back on the ground that it was more than 20 years old.

The UN Security Council today begins debating whether Khartoum has done what Resolution 1,556 of 30 July demanded that it do - immediately impose "a moratorium on all restrictions that might hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance" and, most critically, "disarm the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders and their associates".

It hasn't. Not one Janjaweed camp has been closed. A handful have even been opened. Not a single Janjaweed leader has been apprehended. Common criminals have been paraded as Janjaweed detainees and a number of complete unknowns have been arrested, convicted and subjected to bilateral amputation. The most notorious Janjaweed leader, who wears the uniform of an army colonel, has been permitted to hold court in a five-star hotel in Khartoum, confidently asserting that the government that "appointed" him will not be "stupid" enough to arrest him.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Security Council, driven by self-interest, will this week give Khartoum more time in which to let the Janjaweed murder, rape and pillage in those areas where they can get away with it and put on government uniforms where they can't. The best evidence for this is the complete contempt Khartoum showed for the Council on the eve of being threatened with a very small stick - indeterminate "further actions". Asked whether Sudan intended to comply with Resolution 1,556 within the 30-day grace period, the Agriculture Minister, Majzoub al-Khalifa said: "It's never crossed our mind."

Khalifa was speaking 48 hours after the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, extended a lifeline to Khartoum by saying the government "appeared" to have made progress in some areas. Straw said aerial bombardment of villages "appeared" to have stopped since June. "Appear" just isn't good enough. The Janjaweed, supported by the Sudanese air force, destroyed 34 villages inhabited by the Birgit and Mima tribes in three days in July. More than 400 people died.

Khartoum must have thought it was Christmas: more wriggle room on the eve of judgement week and further evidence of how those who've taken the moral high ground in Iraq are content to occupy the low ground in Darfur.

Experience has shown that quiet diplomacy achieves nothing with this government. What can is the kind of targeted, sustained pressure that put Osama bin Laden on a plane. The Security Council must conclude that the government has not fulfilled its obligations under Resolution 1,556 and name and shame the officials responsible - at national level, the First Vice President, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, the Minister of Federal Rule, Nafie Ali Nafie, the Defence Minister, Bakri Hassan, and the intelligence chief, Salah Gosh.

International travel by them and their families should be barred, their assets frozen and an international commission of inquiry established to investigate war crimes. Sanctions should be introduced against Sudan's oil industry and businesses owned by the ruling party. The arms embargo ordered against the Janjaweed in July should be redirected to the government, which supplies the Janjaweed.

The Security Council must demand that Khartoum accept an African Union mission robust enough to protect civilians - by force if necessary - as a prelude to getting them back to their villages, thereby thwarting Khartoum's plan to corral them in "safe areas" while others occupy the land from which they have been driven.

If Khartoum cannot be moved, or if appeasement continues at the UN, there are only two choices: continued inaction and certain death for legions of unarmed civilians, or unilateral action to pressure Khartoum and save lives. Not in the name of a messianic war against terror, but to stop well- advanced mass murder unleashed by a member state of the UN.

The writer is a journalist and author of the Human Rights Watch report 'Darfur Destroyed'

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