Saturday, June 10, 2000

Sudan’s Islamic government is divided, and rebel leader John Garang is ecstatic. The split in the National Islamic Front (NIF) could be good news for Mr. Garang and the people of Sudan, who have been subject to government-created famines and bombings for 17 years.

Against this background, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is proposing additional aid to the starving and war-weary people of Sudan. The commission proposes that if the Sudanese government does not clean up its human rights record after a 12-month period, the U.S. administration would provide food and medicine aid directly to opposition groups complying with international human rights standards.

The commission’s proposal is worth considering for several reasons:

• The Clinton administration has called Sudan’s government a supporter of international terrorism and said its policies “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” In 1973, the U.S. ambassador and deputy chief of mission were assassinated in Khartoum, and the Sudanese capital has continued to be a haven for international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. Aid that would benefit opposition groups sends a signal of U.S. displeasure over these continuing problems.

• When the government declared a state of emergency in December, it cited external threats to Sudan’s stability, blaming “flagrant American intervention.” By providing humanitarian aid to opposition groups if the government continues its abuses, the U.S. administration would show that it will keep the NIF regime accountable for its flagrant human rights violations.

Almost a decade of U.S. diplomacy has done little to protect the lives of Sudanese civilians or to improve U.S.-Sudan relations. The Sudanese government would like it just fine if it stayed that way.

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