The dispute that is continuing in the western part of Sudan is threatening the stability of the surrounding region. Peace negotiations mediated by the African Union have run into difficulties and there are no signs of an imminent settlement. The United Nations is reportedly considering imposing economic sanctions on Sudan.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 30,000 to 50,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region in western Sudan and 200,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Chad. Reports say more than one million persons have been displaced. Observers have suggested that the Sudanese government’s army is backing an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed. The actions of this militia against African residents has been described by humanitarian groups and others as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.”

In July the U.N. Security Council called for the disarming of the Janjaweed and the holding of its leaders, and issued a warning that if the situation did not improve within a month, it might impose economic sanctions. As the deadline approached at the beginning of this month, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan submitted a report to the Security Council saying that the Sudanese government had not fulfilled its obligation of disarming the militia and that attacks on black Africans were continuing.

In response to these developments, U.S. President George W. Bush declared that such attacks constituted “genocide,” and the United States submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council that called for economic sanctions. The European Union also decided to impose sanctions if the Sudanese government did not adequately respond to the situation.

Although the Sudanese government has consistently denied any links with the Janjaweed, it has not taken any steps to disarm it. And in subsequent peace negotiations held by the African Union, the Sudanese government, African resident organizations and others, the Sudanese government rejected a draft agreement calling for disarmament and measures to restore public order. As a result, distrust of the Sudanese government is spreading.

The current conflict in Darfur ostensibly began when black Africans living there formed an antigovernment organization to voice their interests. Actually, however, its roots go back deeper to an ethnic dispute and power struggle between African farmers and Arab nomads over water and land rights. In addition, observers point out that the conflict over resources has intensified in recent years as a result of a rapid population increase and an enlargement of the Sahara Desert due to desertification.

Africa has been plagued by civil war, ethnic conflict, massacres due to racial discrimination and massive flows of refugees caused by drought and starvation. This negative legacy still weighs heavily on the continent today. The horrors of the genocide in Rwanda, which is said to have taken the lives of 800,000 people, must not be repeated.

In southern Sudan a civil war involving the government army and the African-Christian Sudanese People’s Liberation Army has continued for more than 20 years. Thanks to mediation by the U.S. and other countries, it looks as though a peace settlement might be concluded this fall. But a pall has been cast on this situation, too, because the Sudanese government has accused the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army of supporting antigovernment groups in Darfur. These circumstances make a settlement of the Darfur conflict all the more urgent.

The priority of international monitoring is to stop attacks on black Africans residing in Darfur and to restore public order. The Security Council is considering an enlargement of the peacekeeping force of 300 troops dispatched by the African Union.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail recently visited Japan and had talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. Expressing concerns about the humanitarian situation in Darfur, the Japanese side urged an early settlement of the conflict and also declared that it would dispatch an ambassador to the local monitoring team of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The Japanese government has suspended official development assistance to Sudan since 1992 because of that country’s human-rights violations. But Japan must fulfill its international responsibility by providing humanitarian support, including financial aid.

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