- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

JOHANNESBURG — Another bloody African crisis, another round of hand-wringing in the capitals of the world’s most powerful nations.

As the 30-day deadline nears for Sudan to disarm the mostly Arab pro-government militias in Darfur, the United Nations and the leading Western powers are in a dilemma over how far to go to stop the killing in an African country.

Still haunted by the fiasco in Somalia a decade ago, the United States and its European allies are reluctant to intervene militarily in Africa — afraid of being dragged into a quagmire far from home while troops are still tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Western nations want Africa to lead — to find African solutions for African problems. But analysts say the governments of the continent lack the cohesion, resources and political will.

“It is terrible. The West finds a need to follow an African lead, and Africa is not ready to lead,” said Greg Mills, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

In Sudan’s Darfur region, at least 1.2 million black Africans have fled the militias, known as the Janjaweed, that have killed thousands of civilians in response to a rebellion.

The African Union is taking various approaches to dealing with the Darfur conflict, offering to host peace talks in Nigeria between African rebels and the Sudanese government starting Monday and providing forces to protect monitors of an April 8 cease-fire agreement.

But Africa’s capacity to supply troops is limited, analysts say.

“What is needed now is for someone to go in — not with a peacekeeping force, but with an enforcement force,” said Chris Landsberg, co-director of the South African Center for International Relations. “The African Union is not ready for that. They are already overstretched in Burundi and Congo.”

While Africans die, Western capitals debate whether to classify the deaths officially as genocide, as Congress and some humanitarian groups have declared, or as a less serious episode of ethnic cleansing.

Mr. Landsberg accused the United States and its allies of seeking ways to avoid calling the Janjaweed attacks a genocide — a definition that some argue would require action under the 1948 Geneva Convention.

However, in the case of Darfur, he said, “I think we are heading for genocide unless decisive action is taken.”

A decade ago, Hutu extremists in Rwanda slaughtered more than 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis, while the U.N. Security Council, paralyzed by events in Somalia to the north, watched from afar. Instead of beefing up its peacekeepers in the country, the world body pulled them out.

Today, all agree more should have been done.

Now, faced with another killing field in Africa, there still is no clear idea how to proceed.

Both the United States and the United Nations bluntly told Sudan to end the violence and disarm the Janjaweed by Aug. 31. They threatened punitive sanctions and hinted at military intervention, but have not yet announced what actions they will take.

The 15-nation Security Council is due to consider what further measures to adopt at the end of August, with options ranging from extending the deadline for another 30 days to imposing punitive measures.

The United States has led the push for tougher action against Khartoum. But aides to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who traveled to Sudan this week, told reporters that most council members oppose heavy sanctions.

The Sudanese government says it has made a start but needs more time, and it has angrily rejected the idea of foreign intervention.

Mr. Mills expects the United Nations to buy time on Darfur by extending the deadline and requiring more monitoring.

“The U.N. doesn’t have the stomach or political will to act in this region,” he said.

Somalia is the oft-cited reason for Western reluctance in Africa, even though that effort did save people from a civil war-induced famine that already had killed 370,000.

U.S.-led troops landed in December 1992, made sure food relief got to the people and ended the famine. The United Nations credited the troops with saving at least 100,000 lives.

But the mission’s role gradually changed from feeding the people to fighting the warlords who caused the famine. After 29 U.S. soldiers died in action, 18 in a single battle, the Clinton administration and ultimately all other Western governments withdrew their forces.

Now Darfur may be a test case for the West’s genuine engagement and willingness to disprove critics. They charge that the same Western powers who were willing to wage war against Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia over ethnic cleansing in Kosovo will not make the same effort in far more dire crises in Africa.

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