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Sudan in need of Peacekeepers

Sudan in need of Peacekeepers

THE BLURRED LINE between war and peace has never been more apparent than in Sudan this week. For one thing, the peace agreement signed by the vice-president, Ali Uthman Taha, and the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, John Garang, is incomplete.

Many weeks of negotiation are in prospect to settle details of the sharing of power and to tackle the difficult problem of disarmament. For another, Sudan is such a vast country that a peace agreement in one region, the south, seems able to ignore ethnic atrocities in another, the west. Although the Khartoum government denies being involved, there is clear evidence of its complicity in the savage sweeps being made by the Janjaweed, the Arab militia, around Darfur.

As a result, an estimated 150,000 to 350,000 displaced people are in danger of dying in camps on the Chad border before the end of the year.

In this light, it is hard to work out what our reaction to the peace accord should be. It is undeniably an extraordinarily hopeful moment, after nearly 50 years of fighting and the loss of more than two million lives. At many points during the months of negotiating it seemed that the two sides, Muslim in the north, mainly Christian in the south, could not reach agreement, and another round of killing was inevitable.

Now, there is a chance to build peace where none existed before. For that chance to be grasped, however, the Sudanese need a great deal of help from overseas. The country’s infrastructure is battered, and 92 per cent of the population is living in poverty.

Without international support, only a fraction of what is needed can be put in place.

And yet the situation in the west of the country must give the international community pause. It would be tragic if the inflow of international aid took no account of the abuses in Darfur. Unfortunately, there is no time to wait for political conditions to improve: aid agencies are in a race against the imminent rains, and must act quickly to save lives.

In such circumstances, donor countries such as the US and the UK cannot keep their hands clean. Yes, pressure must be put on Khartoum to take action against the Janjaweed; but this needs to be in the context of significant financial aid, not just for the Darfur victims, but also to capitalise on the peace negotiations in the south.

The example of Iraq is before us. Putting things back together — and often uniting things that were never together in the first place — takes greater effort, but considerably less cash, than breaking them apart by waging or supporting a war.

Had the suffering in Sudan happened outside Africa, the international community would have felt forced to act years ago. Late on the scene, it must not compound its neglect by losing interest in the country now that peace is in prospect.

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