THE problem of unrest and corresponding humanitarian problems continues in Darfur in the west of Sudan, and the lack of United Nations intervention is basically the reason why.
The question of the world community providing international peacekeeping forces to control the situation in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic remains unresolved. After three years, the situation in Darfur risks growing to the level of the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda, where upwards of a million people died.
Estimates indicate perhaps 200,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur at this point. The United States has provided some $1.4 billion in aid so far.
The African Union sent forces, but they have proved to be insufficient in number and inadequately equipped to put the lid back on, particularly given that the Sudanese government and militias it backs are one element in the disorder. There are also seven rebel movements active in Darfur.
To increase the level of international muscle to bring order and thus permit unconstrained relief, the United Nations Security Council, with China, Qatar, and Russia abstaining, last month authorized a U.N. peacekeeping force of 20,000.
The problem was that the Sudanese government dug in its heels and said that, although it accepts African Union forces in Darfur, it would not allow U.N. troops there - even though it already tolerates U.N. forces in Southern Sudan.
The Sudanese government terms U.N. troops in Darfur a violation of its sovereignty and says it will resist by force any effort to introduce them. It called the effort to send them recolonization, and claimed that the attempt had backing from Christian, Jewish, and Zionist activists looking to smear Sudan's Islamic government.
Given the hostile position of the Sudanese government, no U.N. member stepped forward to offer peacekeeping forces for Darfur. The African Union mandate was expiring and running out of money. The United Nations was supposed to tackle this problem during the current U.N. General Assembly session, but has been distracted by other matters.
Instead, the African Union has agreed to increase the number of its police and military forces in Darfur from the current 7,000 to 11,000, to make its presence more effective in maintaining what peace there is.
The increase in African forces in Darfur might help make it possible for some displaced persons to return to their homes, and would certainly be consistent with expecting African countries to take responsibility for African problems.
But given the size of the region and the feeble infrastructure, prospects for substantial improvement are weak. The government of Sudan needs to reassume responsibility for Darfur and it needs international development support to do that, not just more humanitarian aid, some of which has already ended up in the hands of the rebel groups.
In the meantime, Darfur will remain a running sore and a human tragedy.