- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

As the clock keeps fatally ticking for Darfurian refugees, the Sudanese government and rebels from Darfur finally reached landmark security and humanitarian agreements yesterday. The African Union, which brokered the deal, must now work to make sure both sides follow through on their promises.

The government in Khartoum agreed not to fly any “hostile military flights” over the Darfur region, an issue which previously had stalled the talks. The security protocol also calls on Khartoum to disarm Janjaweed militias, which have often acted as government proxy forces against Darfurian rebels. Both sides also have pledged to reveal the location of their forces to cease-fire monitors. The humanitarian deal theoretically guarantees aid workers free access to refugees, including in rebel-controlled areas.

About 1.5 million Darfurian refugees have been displaced by the crisis, and most are languishing in camps where disease and malnutrition are rampant. About 70,000 people have died as a result of the crisis. The trouble began in February 2003, after some Darfurian groups rebelled against Khartoum to protest the government’s discriminatory policies against their people and favoritism toward nomadic tribes that have cultural and ethnic ties to Arabs. The government of Khartoum unleashed the Janjaweed to crush the rebellion and has thereby created the worst current humanitarian crisis in the world. Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier this year that Khartoum and the Janjaweed have committed genocide against the Darfurians. Khartoum now appears to be reticent to disarm the Janjaweed it can still count on to do its dirty work: The government probably would have difficulties disarming the militia groups if and when it decides it wants to.

The agreements are a positive, if overdue, step. Given the scale of the crisis, refugees will continue dying of violence and disease every day the crisis continues. The African Union has made concerted attempts to broker talks and establish stability through the presence of cease-fire monitors and peace-keepers. The slow deployment of these urgently needed forces has led to tragic results. A State Department official estimated 749 monitors and peace-keepers have been deployed to Darfur, and that it plans to send 3,500 to the region. The international community must step up its efforts to deploy African troops as quickly as possible.

Next week, the U.N. Security Council will meet in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to focus on Darfur and other crises in Sudan. Khartoum, which was probably driven to yesterday’s agreements by its imminence, would be wise to make as much progress as possible ahead of that meeting. The international community, though, will also want to have tangible achievements to point to, such as new African deployments to Darfur.

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