President Bush has sent the right signal to Sudan's Omar al-Bashir: There will be consequences if he continues to ignore pledges to end violence in the Darfur region of his country. But the warning signals need the punch of a real deadline.
Bush, sounding the strongest ever in his warnings to the Sudanese president about imposing sanctions, initially didn't set a timetable, but Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Monday the White House expects action within "weeks."
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government unabashedly continues its genocide against black Africans. So far, between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths have been recorded and more than 2 million people have been displaced, including 200,000 refugees in Chad.
The Sudanese government has been using military aircraft painted white, to resemble the aircraft of peacekeeping forces, in order to move weapons into Darfur and bomb villages. This practice, a violation of international humanitarian law, has been going on for quite some time, documented by a U.N. panel.
The Sudanese finally agreed to the second phase of the hybrid peacekeeping force, what is known as the "heavy support package" of the United Nations -- 3,000 individuals, mostly troops and some police and civilians to improve the efficiency of an African Union peacekeeping force already in place. Now it's a matter of whether or not it actually happens. Bush made it clear that it must, and to that extent his warnings are good. But the history of the Sudanese president is that he makes an agreement, only to later renege.
Real accomplishment, as Negroponte and Bush noted the other day, will come when the third phase of the peacekeeping force package gets implemented -- the entire 17,000 U.N. troops, mixed with African Union peacekeepers in a real hybrid force with a strong mandate and the United Nations in control. That has not yet been achieved.
Bush is right to distrust al-Bashir, on both implementation of the second-phase agreement and on other future steps to reach out to rebels, discontinue aerial bombings by Sudanese aircraft, cease blocking humanitarian assistance and stop obstructing the international community's work.
Diplomacy has been done. Meanwhile, people in Darfur still are dying. It's time for the international community to give more muscle to the diplomacy. The Save Darfur Coalition wants a deadline set for the first week in May, for the imposition of tough measures to end Khartoum's intransigence before the world, and the killing in Darfur. The need for action is indeed urgent -- and the full U.N.-African Union hybrid peacekeeping force offers the only real potential for bringing protection and then peace to suffering civilians badly in need of both.