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On the edge

"On the edge" Continued...

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

The recent government-backed violence in Darfur is another sign that the Sudanese government is digging in its heels, said Bolton, and could signal a return to earlier waves of violence. "The government of Sudan wants to consolidate its position in advance of whenever a UN force might actually be deployed, and put itself in the strongest possible posture."

Ultimately, Bolton thinks the best hope in making progress lies in pressuring the country that most heavily supports the Sudanese government: China.

China represents Sudan's biggest trading partner, and it pours billions into the oil-rich country each year. China takes as much as two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and offers plenty in return: money, infrastructure, military equipment, and weapons used by the Sudanese army.

"If you just had China abandon its support for the government in Khartoum, I think that alone could make a real difference," said Bolton.

China is already feeling pressure from the international community, especially as it prepares to host this summer's Olympic games in Beijing. High-profile Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg quit his post as artistic adviser to the Olympic games in February, citing his concern over China's involvement in Sudan while the Darfur crisis continues.

Bolton isn't sure the UN is willing to exert the same kind of pressure: "In the culture of the UN, nobody really wants to take on China or Sudan or anybody else, so the result is literally years of delay."

On the ground in Darfur, many refugees may not have years to wait. Aid workers report treacherous conditions in getting food, water, and medical attention to thousands in camps along the border.

Beginning at a port in the Red Sea on the eastern side of Sudan, the world's longest humanitarian route stretches some 1,800 miles to the border of Chad. Despite the harsh climate and treacherous roads, the war-ravaged path isn't a no-man's land: Bandits regularly attack relief convoys and sometimes kidnap drivers.

Since the beginning of this year, bandits have hijacked 45 trucks contracted to deliver aid by the UN World Food Program (WFP). Twenty-three drivers are still missing. WFP officials say they are cutting in half their food deliveries to refugee camps because they're unable to find enough drivers willing to make the dangerous trips.

Meanwhile, the operation is running out of money to make air deliveries and says it will ground its humanitarian flights by the end of the month without an infusion of cash. "This is an unprecedented situation," said Kenro Oshidari, a WFP staffer in Sudan.

World Vision, a Christian relief organization, represents one of the largest non-governmental organizations in Darfur. The group serves about 400,000 internally displaced people within eight camps in the regions, according to Michael Arunga, communications manager for World Vision's Sudan operation.

Arunga told WORLD that his staff had remained safe so far this year. (During the last quarter, World Vision staff members were attacked three times in one week.) Despite the danger and difficulty, Arunga said the group plans to stay:"If we pulled out, the living conditions of these people would deteriorate significantly. We are committed to supporting them."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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