Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan's president, has just been caught in a breathtaking breach of faith. A confidential United Nations report says the Sudanese government is flying arms and heavy military equipment to its Arab militias in Darfur. This is a flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing an arms embargo on the Darfur region. To conceal this illegal activity, Sudan's government is using military transports disguised as United Nations aircraft or planes belonging to the African Union peacekeeping force.
These acts of duplicity can only increase the bloodshed in Darfur and produce more suffering for the area's 6 million mostly African residents. The rampaging Arab militias are the main cause of a humanitarian disaster in which an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and about 2.5 million driven from their destroyed villages. Sudan's government has always claimed that the Arab militias fighting a Darfur-based African rebellion operate outside its control and without government approval. This transparent lie is laid bare by discovery that Bashir's government is flying arms and military equipment to the militias.
Ironically, the United Nations' confidential report surfaced this month just as the Sudanese government announced its willingness to accept more international peacekeepers for Darfur. The augmentation approved by Sudan would add 3,000 military police plus six military helicopters to the undermanned and overwhelmed African Union force of 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur.
But even with these additional troops and helicopters, the poorly equipped and haphazardly supported African Union force is too small to make much difference across an area two-thirds the size of France. Clearly, what's needed to protect Darfur's imperiled civilians is something closer to the proposed force of 21,000 armed peacekeepers provided jointly by the United Nations and the African Union. Sudan has long refused to accept such a force. The alternative is a tough set of U.N. sanctions against Sudan. These could include an international arms embargo forbidding any military sales to Bashir's government plus imposition of a no-fly zone for Sudanese military forces over much of Darfur. Britain and the United States are prepared to support sanctions if diplomacy fails to rescue Darfur and its people from their present peril.
President Bush warned Wednesday that "if President Bashir does not meet his obligations ... we'll act." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants a bit more time for diplomacy. Ban should have his grace period. But three years of stalling on Darfur from Sudan's government is far more than enough. If diplomacy fails again now, it will be time for the Security Council to vote the tough "Plan B" sanctions on Bashir's balking regime.
Reprinted from The San Diego Union-Tribune.