Relief for Darfur has been delayed far too long

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The Independent Online

Still the people of Darfur wait for protection from the killing, the rape and the looting. The devastating report we publish today by Lord Alton, following his recent visits to refugee camps in the region, testifies to the continuing crimes being committed with impunity by the Sudanese militias. Yet the international community is still failing to treat the plight of Darfur with the urgency it needs.

Still the people of Darfur wait for protection from the killing, the rape and the looting. The devastating report we publish today by Lord Alton, following his recent visits to refugee camps in the region, testifies to the continuing crimes being committed with impunity by the Sudanese militias. Yet the international community is still failing to treat the plight of Darfur with the urgency it needs.

There has been delay after delay - and then some. Yesterday it was announced that the arrival of armed African Union peace-keepers had been put back by a week because there was nowhere for them to live, yet their mission has been weeks in the planning. It is expected that the 300 Rwandan soldiers - a far from adequate force, but better than nothing - will now arrive next weekend. The Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, meanwhile, was holding a summit in Tripoli, bringing together regional leaders in the hope - according to the Egyptians - of persuading the Sudanese government and the rebels to "soften" their positions.

This crisis, however, has been marked by a great deal of talking, a great many promises and pitifully little action. The United Nations has been unable to move far beyond platitudinous pronouncements because there is no agreement among members on precisely how much pressure to exert on Sudan. Tony Blair's trip to Khartoum 10 days ago brought discussion of a five-point plan, which has since sunk without trace. The prospects for his Millennium Commission on Africa do not look especially favourable, if even a personal visit with a specific plan to ease what is currently the continent's worst emergency can be so easily ignored.

There has been a broad consensus for months on what needs to be done. Aid groups need to be given access to the 1.4 million refugees. There need to be considerably more than the initial 300 African peace-keepers; they need to have a bigger remit. And the Sudanese government must disarm the militias. As Lord Alton states so graphically, none of these things have happened. How much longer must the people of Darfur wait?

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