War and peacekeepers

The tragedy in Darfur tends to fade in and out of the world’s consciousness, mostly forgotten until some new outrage reminds us that millions of people there are still displaced and slowly starving in refugee camps as heavily armed rebels, militiamen, government soldiers and assorted bandits plunder the countryside. Comes now another outrage.

On Tuesday, outrage. about 200 bandits on horseback and in SUVs mounted with antiaircraft or anti-tank weapons opened fire on a U.N. peacekeeping force that had been investigating the killing of civilians in north Darfur. At least seven peacekeepers were killed and 22 wounded in a two-hour gun battle.

The brazen assault was horrifying but hardly surprising, given that the peacekeepers are a grossly undermanned and under-equipped contingent of sitting ducks. Astonishingly, it has been almost a year since the United Nations approved a strong force of 26,000 police and soldiers for Darfur, the largest peacekeeping force in the world -- or it would have been if it had ever been deployed. The 9,000 or so peacekeepers in the country consist almost entirely of the old, discredited African Union force that should have been replaced by now; the AU troops simply painted their green helmets blue and switched to a new command structure.

The peacekeepers lack trucks, armored personnel carriers and, most critically, helicopters, which are needed to effectively patrol the Darfur region, an area of Sudan the size of France. Some of the equipment is being held in port by the Sudanese government, which has also blocked the deployment of non-African troops. Yet the Western countries that approved the peacekeeping mission still stubbornly refuse to contribute the helicopters, without which it can’t succeed.


China remains the second-biggest villain in this tragic tale, after the murderous Sudanese government. Beijing buys huge quantities of Sudanese oil and has obstructed efforts by the U.N. Security Council to impose tougher sanctions on the goons in Khartoum. A protest movement targeting the Beijing Olympics flared up during the international torch relay but has quieted since. We’re rooting for that to change by the time the Games open.

It’s all very well to embrace the spirit of international brotherhood and respect for human achievement that the Olympics represent, but Beijing is hoping to reap a PR bonanza from hosting the Games, and those hopes richly deserve to be dashed. Bring on the competition -- and the protests aimed at exposing China’s unconscionable behavior.