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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

In Africa, a policy dilemma

Deterioration in two African conflicts, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, calls into question the claim that other African countries can be effective in dealing with such problems.

In Darfur, in the west of Sudan, 1,000 African Union peacekeepers have been unable to stop or even restrain very much the combatants in that conflict. Thousands have already died in Darfur and many thousands more have been driven from their homes and livelihoods into camps.

A major relief organization, Save the Children-UK, announced the withdrawal last week from Darfur of its personnel, based on the killing of two of its workers and the general diminution in security in the region. The AU forces have had to stop monitoring the conflict because their helicopters were fired on.

Negotiations underway in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, between the Sudanese government and the now three rebel organizations in the Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the National Movement for Reform and Democracy, are at stalemate in spite of the ministrations of a number of African governments seeking to move them along.

Renewed hostilities in the east of the Congo are a continuation of a war that began with the genocide carried out in Rwanda in 1994 by the army of the former government and savage Hutu militia called interhamwe, portrayed in the new movie, Hotel Rwanda. They are also another chapter in the continuing conflict between different armed groups seeking to rule the Congo as the heirs of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, driven from power in 1997, since deceased. A United Nations peacekeeping mission there, composed of some 11,000 troops, over the years variously from Uruguay, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Bangladesh and Tunisia, under the leadership of a retired American ambassador, has been ineffective in stopping or preventing the fighting.

That is perhaps not extraordinary, given the very rugged terrain and the size of the area of the conflict. What is very disturbing, however, is the fact that the U.N. force itself has become snarled in a sex scandal that includes child abuse and prostitution. Again, African leaders, including President Thabo Mbeki of powerful South Africa, are engaged in a determined effort to deal with the Congo crisis as an African regional problem. So far, it isn't working.

Eventually, the question will be asked whether the United States shouldn't be trying to play a more active, constructive role in bringing the Darfur and Congo problems under control.

The answer at present, given the degree to which America is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, has to be negative, the same answer the U.S. gave in Rwanda in 1994, where an estimated 800,000 were ultimately killed.



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