Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 9 News List

The last thing Darfur needs is the involvement of Western troops

By Jonathan Steele  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

An air of unreality, if not cant, surrounds the latest upsurge of calls for UN troops to go into Sudan's western region of Darfur. The actor George Clooney takes to the stage at the UN Security Council, pleading for action. British Prime Minister Tony Blair seizes on the issue to write letters to fellow EU leaders. In cities around the world, protesters hold a "global day for Darfur" to warn of looming genocide.

Is it really possible that Western governments, in spite of being burned by their interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, would use force against another Muslim state?

Groups in the West have long campaigned to have the government in Khartoum replaced. In the US, the Christian right and some of Israel's friends portray it as an Islamic fundamentalist regime.

Human rights activists raise the issue of slavery to suggest that Arab raiders, supported by the government, are routinely abducting Africans from the south to use as human chattel. The Clinton administration listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism because Osama bin Laden once lived there.

Against this background, it was always going to be hard to expect fair reporting when civil war broke out in Darfur three years ago. The complex grievances that set farmers against nomads was covered with a simplistic template of Arab versus African, even though the region was crisscrossed with tribal and local rivalries that put some villages on the government's side and others against it.

It is true that the government -- as often happens in asymmetrical war -- overreacted in its use of force when rebels attacked. The so-called Janjaweed militias that Khartoum organized and armed did not distinguish between civilians and guerrilla fighters. They burned huts, raped women and put tens of thousands of civilians to flight, forcing them across the border into Chad or into camps inside Darfur.

But the rebels also committed atrocities, a fact that was rarely reported since it upset the black-and-white moral image that many editors preferred.

In most wars, governments spin and the media (at least sometimes) seek the truth. Darfur reversed the trend: the media spun while governments were more sophisticated. In spite of efforts to describe the killing in Darfur as genocide, neither the UN nor the EU went along with this description -- not because of moral myopia, but because they understood the difference between a brutal civil war and a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing.

Darfur is not Rwanda. Only the US accepted the genocide description, though this seemed a concession to domestic lobbies rather than a matter of conviction. Washington never followed through with the forcible intervention in Darfur that international law requires once a finding of genocide is made.

Instead, it supported other Western governments in encouraging the African Union (AU) to broker peace talks between Khartoum and the rebels. These culminated in May in an agreement that requires the Janjaweed to disarm before the rebels do. It also gives Darfur's rebel leaders powers to run the region on their own.

Alas, two rebel groups refused to sign. Any fair account of this summer's relapse into war would therefore put most blame on the rebels, whose field commanders recently split into rival groups while their political leaders squabbled in their safe havens in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top