Steve Bloomfield: We <i>can</i> do much more for Darfur

The West isn't even trying to stop the killing
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The Independent Online

While the world points fingers at Robert Mugabe, let us not forget the bad guys in the story of Darfur. The Sudanese government, whose brutal counter-insurgency has left more than four million people in need of emergency assistance. The rebels, fragmented, fighting each other, and increasingly despised by the people on whose behalf they claim to be rebelling. And China, whose thirst for Sudanese oil and desire to sell arms have caused it to turn a blind eye to Darfur's suffering and to protect Sudan at the UN Security Council.

Political leaders in Britain, France and the US like to see themselves as the good guys. For several years, Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown have released statements condemning the killing. President George Bush has called the conflict "genocide". President Nicolas Sarkozy insists that Darfur is a priority. All have spoken of the urgent need for "something to be done", have passed resolutions and made promises. But few actions have backed up the mountain of words.

This is an attitude that has led one of America's main Darfur activists, John Prendergast, to allude to President Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy dictum: speak softly and carry a big stick. The West, Prendergast argues, is speaking loudly and carrying a toothpick.

Two of the biggest challenges in Darfur are deploying a peacekeeping force and ensuring peace talks aimed at ending the conflict succeed. The West is failing on both counts. UN-led peace talks began with much fanfare in Libya in October. Most rebels didn't turn up. Nothing has happened since. The joint UN-African Union force (Unamid) came into being on 1 January, replacing the under-staffed, under-funded AU mission, which had failed to protect anyone.

The Unamid force is supposed to have 26,000 troops. It has 9,000. The force is dangerously low on even the most basic equipment. Soldiers have been going out on day-long patrols without ration packs. There are not enough armoured personnel carriers – and when they do turn up, no one knows how to use them because they haven't been trained properly. The force is supposed to have 18 troop-carrying helicopters and six armoured-attack helicopters, allowing troops to be transported swiftly across a country twice the size of the UK. It has none.

The UN's failure to fully deploy Unamid is having a catastrophic effect. As The Independent revealed in March, Sudanese forces have launched fresh attacks in west Darfur, killing hundreds and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Unamid commanders say they would have been able to prevent some of those attacks if they had been at full strength. They don't expect to reach full strength until next year.

There are things Brown, Sarkozy and Bush could do. To revive the peace process, they could start by warning the rebels they won't be able to live in the West if they don't fully participate in the talks. Abdul Wahid, the leader of one of the most influential rebel factions, lives in Paris. The Justice and Equality Movement, the group with the strongest military, has a base in London. The West could also rent some helicopters. Britain and the US, understandably, don't have any spare at the moment. But other countries do. We could pick up the bill. The US could perhaps pay its fair share at the UN. The US and Britain could stop talking to Sudan's intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, about the "war on terror" – he has visited Britain twice and the US once in the past three years.

Solving Darfur's crisis is not easy. But at the moment, the West – despite the warm words – is not even trying.

This year's Global Day for Darfur demonstration takes place outside the Sudanese embassy in London today from 12.30pm to 2pm

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