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An up-close view of brutality in Darfur

How would we react if Khartoum bombed our kids?

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The brutality of the Khartoum regime's military actions in the Darfur region of western Sudan continually forces a question that seems to have no morally intelligible answer: Is there no act of civilian destruction so cruel, so savage, that the international community will finally respond vigorously and unambiguously?

On the afternoon of May 4, a market was bombed in the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur. The attack killed several people – including six students from a nearby school – and injured others. It also destroyed most of the shops in this vestige of a shattered agricultural economy.

The plane that dropped the bombs was an Antonov. It's not a bomber by design, but a retrofitted Russian cargo plane from which crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay. There is no bombing guidance system, so Antonovs are useless as true military weapons. But they are exquisitely suited for their real purpose in Darfur: civilian terror.

Khartoum refuses to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the attacks, even as it refused to allow UN personnel to evacuate badly wounded children. But only Khartoum flies military aircraft in Darfur, so there can be very little doubt that the attacks were authorized by the military command of the National Islamic Front. As Human Rights Watch has conclusively demonstrated, Khartoum's chain of command – both military and civilian – is powerfully hierarchical. This was not the action of a rogue commander, but almost certainly an act of deliberate civilian destruction countenanced by senior officials.

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