Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What happens in Africa doesn't stay in Africa

The previous post reminded me that I haven't written about international events in a while, and it's past time that I once again discussed the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

Public interest in the conflict has waxes and waned, but the story has been all over the news lately, thanks largely to a celebrity-laden Washington awareness rally on Sunday. The event's bipartisan spirit was refreshing, but unfortunately, even the biggest symbolic protests have a rather limited ability to end a conflict that thus far has caused the senseless deaths of more than 200,000 people. Large-scale U.S. military intervention also is untenable because of our ongoing battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

International diplomacy is still an effective option, though, and the African Union's Darfur peace talks, still ongoing in Nigeria after a temporary deadline extension, will mark a crossroads in Africa's future. If American and British diplomats can help strike a deal between the Sudanese government and rebel forces, an entire generation in the continent's largest country will experience peace for the first time in their lives. (The second Sudanese civil war broke out in 1983 and didn't end until last year.) Just as importantly, international aid workers will be able to distribute food and supplies to hundreds of thousands of starving Darfur refugees without fear of attacks from Janjaweed militiamen.

But the consequences of failed negotiations this week could be devastating and long-reaching. For one thing, continued fighting could imperil the ceasefire that ended the civil war last year and reignite an inferno that killed more than 2 million people. That, in turn, could destabilize the entire region and lead to more violence like the bloody April 13 battle near N'Djamena, the capital of Sudanese neighbor Chad. Even more ominously, al-Qaeda easily could exploit the chaos to set up permanent shop in Sudan, where the government harbored Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.

Every day that the Darfur conflict goes on is a day that a national security threat, a humanitarian tragedy, and a moral abomination grows unchecked. For the sakes of the Sudanese and Americans alike, we must negotiate a peaceful end to the killing.

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