SUDAN WATCH: Darfur activists' priority is UN peacekeepers - Alex de Waal says putting UN troops on the ground would "inflame the situation"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Darfur activists' priority is UN peacekeepers - Alex de Waal says putting UN troops on the ground would "inflame the situation"

Oct 4 2006 Christian Science Monitor report - Student activists rise again - this time for Darfur. Excerpt:
"The grass-roots people have really kept the issue alive and forced the hand of the governments," says Alex de Waal, a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, who has been advising the African Union on Darfur. He says the UN Security Council's decision in March 2005 to refer Darfur war crimes cases to the International Criminal Court and the US move two years ago to label the conflict "genocide" would not have happened without advocates' pressure.

Activists' priority: UN peacekeepers

As the situation has worsened, activists have pushed for change. Most advocates want UN peacekeepers sent to Darfur.

"I think [grass-roots efforts] have made [Darfur] almost a top-tier issue for the Bush administration," says John Prendergast, a senior adviser of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "There's no question [President] Bush feels political pressure to respond."

Mr. Bush said Monday the UN should send peacekeepers without delay.

One reason the Darfur movement has succeeded - where many similar international efforts have failed - is the US move to label the crisis genocide. "The comparison of Darfur to [the 1994 genocide in] Rwanda is what has been most potent here," says Eric Reeves, a Darfur analyst and Smith College professor.

While appearances by celebrities like George Clooney have been crucial, grass-roots efforts have made the difference - especially those of young people, he adds. "A lot of students now really only know Rwanda as historical event, and there is a resolve that this will not happen on their watch.... You have to go back to apartheid-era South Africa to find [a movement] this powerful for an issue that doesn't involve US blood or treasure."

STAND, the student antigenocide group, is an example. Since April, it has grown from seven to 55 chapters. When Ms. Cato brought Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan whose story inspired the movie "Hotel Rwanda," to her campus last Wednesday, he packed the 750-seat auditorium with an overflow audience of at least 1,200 people. "We're young, idealistic, and we're horrified that genocide can go on in this world," Cato explains.

Still, activists face an uphill battle. The Sudanese government has rejected a Security Council resolution passed last month that calls for 22,000 UN troops to replace the underfunded 7,000-member African Union force.

Conflicting priorities for US

The US also has reasons not to push the Khartoum-based government too hard, observers say. Sudan has helped the US penetrate terror networks it might never have been able to on its own. Also, the US does not want to provoke further instability, says Mr. de Waal. Putting UN troops on the ground would "inflame the situation," he says.

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