NEWS

Editorial: Take Sudan seriously

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As if America's foreign policy cup isn't already brimming with worries about Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq, now another hotspot deserves considered attention from President Bush and his would-be successors: Sudan.

The joint United Nations/African Union force trying to keep peace in that nation's Darfur region is under severe duress. Last week, a group of peacekeepers was hit by a well-coordinated ambush. About 200 gunmen on horseback and in vehicles surprised the group as it was heading back to camp. Several were reported dead.

That wasn't the first time suspected members of the militant Arab Janjaweed - the "devils on horseback," a group thought to be propped up by the Sudanese government - have targeted peacekeepers. Last month four were assaulted and held at gunpoint. In May another peacekeeper was fatally shot in his vehicle. Those on the ground say road travel is simply becoming too dangerous for peacekeepers and U.N. food aid distributors in Darfur.

The blue-helmeted U.N./A.U. contigent is supposed to be an outside force immune to the fighting between Janjaweed and anti-government rebels. Its 9,000 members are in Sudan so that armies don't have to be. That militias are now targeting peacekeepers is disturbing. The U.S. and other nations should heed its calls for assistance by at least supplying transport helicopters and surveillance aircraft.

Besides the obvious humanitarian implications, if peacekeepers fail it could further embolden a troublesome government that already feels it can ignore Western concerns, thanks in no small part to money - and, allegedly, arms- Sudan receives from China in exchange for oil. It also would ramp up Sudan's reputation as a safe haven for terrorists. Few recall that Sudan once harbored Osama bin Laden before he bailed for Afghanistan; reportedly terror groups from Middle Eastern countries are finding a home in Sudan and other African nations.

We recognize that America's platter is full, but there's simply no denying not only the moral but the strategic and national security interest the U.S. has there. The Chinese like to sell their products to Americans; our government should make Beijing abundantly aware just how seriously we take Sudan.

Peoria Journal Star