There is no excuse for ignoring Sudan's tragedy

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The Independent Online

The unfolding catastrophe in Darfur has shown the international community in the most unflattering light. Russia, China, Algeria and Pakistan diluted beyond recognition the UN resolution calling on Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia within 30 days. Threats against the regime have disappeared. Three months from the election, George Bush clearly has a limited interest in sending overstretched troops to a region without US strategic interests.

The unfolding catastrophe in Darfur has shown the international community in the most unflattering light. Russia, China, Algeria and Pakistan diluted beyond recognition the UN resolution calling on Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia within 30 days. Threats against the regime have disappeared. Three months from the election, George Bush clearly has a limited interest in sending overstretched troops to a region without US strategic interests.

Three weeks ago, newspaper leaks suggested that the British Government was on the cusp of deploying 500 troops. As John Bercow points out in these pages, since the Prime Minister left for Barbados, there has been silence.

Yet the situation on the ground has got worse. Aerial "barrel bomb" attacks continue; international observers are being imprisoned and aid workers are obstructed at every turn by the Sudanese authorities. Rains are making roads impassable and the country is facing a swarm of locusts. Aid agencies estimate that more than 1,000 people are dying a day and more than a million remain homeless. These villagers will continue to flee, leaving crops to rot in the fields, as long as they are not offered protection against Janjaweed raids.

Sudan is threatened by nothing more severe than unspecified "measures" and the prospect of Kofi Annan "reporting back" to the UN Security Council if it fails to comply. Countries such as Britain that want to intervene, but are hamstrung by the current toothless resolution, have an alternative. The almost certain breaching of the Genocide Convention places an obligation on UN member states for immediate action. And stopping the killing need not mean large-scale deployments of Western troops. If no-fly zones could be established to protect the Kurds against Saddam's wrath in northern Iraq, then it should be simple to prevent the low-tech attacks by ageing aircraft in Sudan. On the ground, the 3,000 troops offered by the African Union could, if supported by Western equipment, safeguard the refugee camps and protect the distribution of aid.

Ten years ago this summer, the Rwandan genocide went unpunished by Western governments - and largely unremarked by Western newsdesks - as the world's gaze fixed on the handover to democracy in South Africa. It would be a shaming and grotesque corruption of Olympic ideals if the Games in Athens and the holiday plans of world leaders were further to distract the world from another African tragedy.

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