Leading article: The deafening silence

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The Independent Online

It is a particularly depressing fact that the only significant international action on Darfur of late has come from the Chinese government. Responding to Steven Spielberg's withdrawal from the Olympic games last month, China's envoy to Khartoum, Liu Guijin, publicly berated the Sudanese government for the escalating assaults on civilians. It is easy to dismiss this as just words to assuage the international furore at China's support for the genocidal Sudanese government. But at least Beijing has reacted to public pressure.

Contrast this with the behaviour of Western governments, which have wrung their hands in horror at the sufferings of the poor people of Darfur and yet have done practically nothing concrete to help them. It is now over two months since the United Nations-African Union force formally took over the task of peacekeeping in the region, yet the numbers on the ground still amount to no more than 9,000 out of a planned deployment of 26,000. They lack helicopters, proper provisions and equipment. On most accounts they may not be able to reach full strength for another three months.

In the meantime, however, the breakdown of peace talks at the beginning of the year has been accompanied by a resurgence of virtual war following a rebel attack on a garrison town in the north at the end of last month. The Sudanese military have responded with full force and the utmost brutality, bombing villages and towns and painting aircraft white to disguise them as aid transports. The janjaweed are back in action with a vengeance. The rebel groups have split into half a dozen factions, each of which are vying for attention by launching raids on government positions.

Khartoum is not the only guilty party. The failure of the peace talks in Libya was due as much to the divisions within the separatist forces as the obduracy of the Sudanese government. But whatever the proximate cause, the resumption of untrammelled government offensives and the release of the janjaweed to do their worse is propelling the situation back to the worst days of violence five years ago. And it is only possible because of the failure of the west to act promptly to curb it. The slowness in building up the UN-AU force is a disgrace. The reluctance of Europe to lend the right helicopters is inexcusable. The lack of firmness in the protests to Khartoum is unforgiveable.

Peace will only come to Darfur when all the sides sit down again and see it in their interests to reach an accord. But until they do, the international community must act with resolution to stay the hands of Khartoum and to stop the violence against civilians. China has made a small step in this direction. Now the onus is back on the West.

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