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Spectator to genocide

"Spectator to genocide" Continued...

Issue: "Schiavo’s fight for life," April 2, 2005

Villagers who managed to flee the violence have not found sanctuary in internal displacement camps. Sprawling camps often shelter tens of thousands of Darfuris, who duck under squalid shacks made from sticks and plastic bags where disease and malnutrition are thrusting mortality figures higher. If they live on the periphery, they are still open to Janjaweed raids.

The government also has not relented: Officials announce they must relocate refugees to new camps, then use bulldozers to flatten existing settlements, often in the middle of the night and without warning. On one such occasion they did not allow Western media photographers to snap pictures, ripping the memory cards from their digital cameras. Mr. Steidle, however, was able to keep his and record the abuse.

As it stands, the African Union has too few monitors and too few powers to stop the killing. Mr. Steidle said the most violent months of the whole conflict were in December and January, but he has learned quieter periods do not signal the end. He estimates Darfur, which is about the size of France, needs some 50,000 African Union troops with an expanded mandate authorizing them to protect civilians and secure roads for humanitarian aid. That is roughly the same figure another seasoned witness to genocide offered: former General Romeo Dallaire, head of the UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1994. Crucial in the short run, Mr. Steidle believes, are weapons sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone over Darfur.

Even with its weakness, Mr. Steidle has seen the good even small AU forces can accomplish. After an attack on the town of Labado, which had a population of 20,000, a Sudanese general said his mission was to clear the road all the way to Khartoum, several hundreds of miles away. Knowing that the village of Mujaheryia would be next in line-which had double the inhabitants of Labado-the African Union stationed 35 soldiers there to protect civilian contractors.

Even this gesture deterred the government and Janjaweed, making up a few thousand soldiers, from attacking. The AU then deployed 70 protection-force soldiers and 10 military observers to Labado, drawing back 3,000 villagers within a week. "I was very impressed with them," Mr. Steidle said. "They have ownership of this mission, they want to help their fellow Africans."

Nonetheless, the African Union still needs logistical aid and training, and probably NATO-quality troops to augment their mission if they are to be effective, said Sudan expert Eric Reeves. Part of the problem is Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, mediator between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government. He stated Darfur is an "African" problem meant for Africa to solve alone, and recently claimed conditions are improving in the region even as they deteriorate.

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers introduced the Darfur Accountability Act in March, which calls for the arms embargo and African Union assistance Mr. Steidle advocates. While the act is worth backing, Mr. Reeves said, it is unclear how much the United States is willing to act unilaterally. "Congress is not an ideal means of responding to foreign crises," he told WORLD. "I think it's a sign of how far from the front burner Darfur has slipped for Bush." Successive UN Security Council resolutions have also failed to rein in the Sudanese government.

Mr. Steidle hopes raising Americans' awareness will help dispel international torpor over Darfur. A self-described Navy brat with no "home port," he currently lives on a sailboat in Annapolis, Md. Now he is on a publicity mission he believes cannot afford to fail.

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