Disaster in slow motion

THE BALTIMORE SUN

'YOU'VE WATCHED your house go up in flames. You watched them take the loot out of your house and put it in a helicopter and take it away. You've watched women being raped, or maybe you were a father and had one of your daughters raped. You don't know if all your family members are alive or are dead.

"You're really sick, you're weak. You've watched people die all around you. [You're] lying on a mat, sometimes on a tarp, sometimes just under bushes -- feces all over the place; garbage all over the place; very, very little clean water; very, very little food, and almost no medicine.

"Now picture this as your life for the last year, and the future doesn't look really any brighter."

That was Rep. Frank R. Wolf last week, desperately trying to evoke for the refugees of war-ravaged Darfur some measure of the compassion and concern the world has so generously shown in response to the tsunami disasters of South Asia.

The horror and brutality of the bombing and burning and raping visited upon the villagers of western Sudan in the past two years can't be captured as well as natural calamities by 24/7 news networks, which beam scenes worldwide and shock people into action.

But the slow-motion disaster of Darfur is no less deadly, and may be even more painful. Mr. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and human rights advocate who has long been sounding the alarm on Darfur, raised the issue again while the Indian Ocean disaster has attracted global attention.

There have been hopeful developments, most notably the peace agreement signed earlier this month between the Arab Islamist Sudanese regime in Khartoum and the Christian rebels in the south, ending more than two decades of brutal civil war. The new united government may be more inclined to come to terms with rebels in the west and to rein in the Janjaweed militia that has wreaked havoc on Darfur villagers.

But the United Nations continues to be hamstrung by China and Russia, which have threatened to veto any attempt to bring sanctions against the Khartoum regime for allowing what amounts to the extermination of the black African tribes in Darfur. The African Union has been able to muster only about one-third of the 3,000 peacekeepers it promised, leaving an area the size of Texas with minimal police protection. And vital relief organizations are being forced to pull out of the region because it's too dangerous.

The United States, Kenya, Britain and Norway played a crucial role in achieving the north-south peace agreement. But their work can't stop there. The pressure, the cajolery, the aid must continue until this man-made disaster is finally brought to an end.

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