WASHINGTON - United Nations experts are urging Sudan's neighbors to stop arms smuggling into the war-wrecked country. The move comes as advocates press the U.S. government to use its leadership of the UN Security Council to calm the killing fields of Darfur.
Calls for U.S. action are surging because the Bush administration holds the apex Security Council's rotating presidency this month. Peace advocates see this as a unique opportunity to push the international community toward quelling--if not resolving--a conflict fanned by misgivings about political representation, government aid, ethnic and religious bigotry, and the spoils of mineral extraction in a place blighted by poverty.
Fighting in Darfur has killed as many as 400,000 people since the rugged territory roughly the size of Texas succumbed to bloodshed in 2003. More than two million people have been rendered homeless, according to aid workers.
Heavily armed Sudanese rebels watch as Africa Union armoured vehicles deploy in Sudan's Darfur region, November 18, 2005. Eritrea denied on Thursday U.N. charges of smuggling weapons to rebels in Sudan's western Darfur region, as direct flights resumed between Asmara and Khartoum. (Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters)
The Khartoum regime long has been accused of aiding pro-government militias. But a report issued by a four-member UN expert panel and released Wednesday by the UN News Service blamed some of Sudan's neighbors for stoking the conflict.
The rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, its armed wing the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) ''have continued to receive arms, ammunition and/or equipment from Chad, Eritrea, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, non-governmental groups and other unknown sources,'' the panel said.
The experts said they could not yet determine whether the backing was official or was the result of government officials in those countries acting independently.
At the same time, they added, Sudanese government troops freed up by a peace accord ending hostilities with secessionists in the embattled south were being redeployed in Darfur.
Sudan's government also has returned at least six Mi-24 attack helicopters to duty in Darfur and has used two of them at least once, the experts' report said.
Activists, aid workers, and observers long have warned of a hostile buildup on all sides in the Darfur conflict. Their quest for peace inevitably has focused on the U.S. administration, which since September 2004 has stood out for officially labeling the Darfur conflict ''genocide.''
Last Friday, however, a senior Bush administration official appeared to back away from the word.
The situation ''is very different than it was,'' Jendayi Frazer, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was quoted as briefing reporters. ''It's not as systematic.''
''It is a very serious situation and it's a series of small attacks and incidents. It is not the government directing the militia attacking civilians,'' said Frazer, who declined to respond when asked whether the bloodletting in Darfur still constituted genocide.
Unlike Washington, the United Nations had stopped short of using the term genocide because under international law it would trigger mandatory action--possibly including armed intervention to stop the killing. Frazer's statements appeared to bring the Bush administration closer in line with the world body.
Peace activists insisted that ''genocide'' still applies.
''We will not stand silently by during genocide,'' leading advocates Africa Action said in a written response.
''More than 100,000 people living in camps for internally displaced people in southern Darfur were attacked just last week and forced to flee from the camps. The victims of these attacks are now without basic humanitarian aid or protection, placing their lives at risk,'' the Washington, D.C.-based organization said.
Africa Action and a broad coalition of 100-plus religious, human-rights, peace, and students' groups had urged the Bush administration to use its presidency of the UN Security Council this month to pass a resolution converting the African Union (AU) military and police observer mission in Darfur into a full-fledged UN peacekeeping force with enough physical strength and political backing to protect civilians and humanitarian operations.
Instead, U.S. officials led the Council Friday to adopt a non-binding statement on Darfur that opens the door for UN officials to begin planning for a possible peacekeeping deployment in Darfur.
Past attempts to agree decisive action have hit opposition from China and Russia--both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council and both countries with oil and other commercial interests in Sudan, according to Parag Khanna of the Brookings Institution think tank.
Activists voiced discontent with the council statement, saying a resolution would have committed the UN to fielding a peacekeeping mission.
''The choice to advance a non-binding statement over a binding resolution will result in a minimum of a six-week delay,'' Africa Action said.
''This will mean that a minimum of 10,000 additional lives will likely be lost.''
Whether Washington is persuaded by such concerns remains to be seen.
On Tuesday, vice president Dick Cheney said the Bush administration was ''doing everything we can do'' to stop the violence in Darfur.
''It's a huge area. It's difficult to get at, but we have been actively involved. I am satisfied we are doing everything we can do,'' Cheney was quoted as saying in a news report. U.S. efforts, he said, included providing transport for some AU troops sent in to reinforce the thinly deployed contingent of observers.
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