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Darfur, Beyond Description

Congress calls it genocide. The Bush administration calls it ethnic cleansing. The European Union calls it a massive violation of human rights.

These various descriptions for the killing and uprooting of African Muslims in Sudan's Darfur province reveal differences over how to deal with what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster today.

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Under any label, however, the facts are clear: Over the past year, more than 1.2 million people have been displaced and more than 30,000 killed in Darfur by Arab militias backed by Sudan's military.

Congress, in a resolution last week, demanded that the US label this genocide, which would put pressure on the US to act quickly under a UN treaty. But the State Department is wary of the term, and instead proposes a UN resolution threatening sanctions if Sudan's regime doesn't disarm the Arab militias within 30 days. Monday, the European Union voted to consider only sanctions.

Meanwhile, efforts by Africa's leaders to show they can solve their continent's only major conflict have fallen flat. The West is left trying to prevent more killing and mass starvation.

Sudan's regime promised three weeks ago to put an end to the militias. So far, there's little evidence of that. Its hesitancy may be due to a political struggle in Sudan's capital on the verge of a peace pact that would end a 21-year war in the south. Darfur's African Muslims may have started an uprising last year to gain a piece of the power in Khartoum.

The West should wait no longer for Sudan to solve a problem whose toll is rising, no matter what it's called. The UN Security Council must act quickly to set an urgent deadline, threaten sanctions, and prepare for a possible UN-led military intervention.


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