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Published: Thursday, 4/21/2005

A backward plan

TYING U.S. policy toward Sudan to solving the Darfur problem is a severe case of putting the diplomatic cart before the horse.

The second major developing flaw in the Bush Administration s approach to the problem of Sudan is a tendency to promise a big amount of money in this case, $1.4 billion, to make the north-south agreement work and then drag its feet when it actually comes to providing the cash to do the work.

The normal line of an administration representative, in this case Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, as he drops back to punt in these circumstances, is that he thinks the Congress would be reluctant to appropriate the money promised for the task unless the recipient takes certain difficult actions.

This approach to the Sudanese problem conveniently leaves out the fact that President Bush s Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

Here is the state of play in Sudan. At the turn of the year an important agreement was signed between the government in Khartoum and the southern-based Sudanese People s Liberation Movement/Army, bringing an end to a civil war that has burned in the country since at least 1984.

The north and the Khartoum government are primarily Muslim; the southerners are predominantly Christian or animist. The war was thoroughly vicious, killing uncounted thousands and displacing perhaps millions of miserably poor people.

The United States was heavily involved in the negotiations that led to the accord and pledged itself clearly to making it work.

Simultaneously, in the past few years there has been ongoing in Sudan a war in the west of the country, in the Darfur region on Sudan s border with Chad and the Central African Republic.

It involves fighting between rival Muslim militias, some rebel, some backed by the Sudanese government, the so-called janjaweed. Thousands have been killed or displaced. This tragedy has attracted considerable humanitarian concern and relief.

It needs also to be brought to an end. The logic of dealing with Sudan s problems would suggest that the north-south accord be put into effect first, ending that long-standing, catastrophic division of the country.

Then, a strengthened, unified, more secure central government could apply itself firmly to resolving the Darfur problem. For the United States to take the position that the Sudanese government has to solve Darfur before it will help provide the northern and southern Sudanese the means it promised to implement the new accord, already nearly five months old now, is duplicitous and short-sighted.

If the north-south accord comes unstuck for want of means to put it into effect, the Bush Administration will have rivaled in irresponsibility the Clinton administration s approach to the 1994 Rwanda crisis. This must not occur.

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