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Warring factions in Sudan’s Darfur region last week concluded a peace agreement that is designed to end three years of vicious fighting. The deal is not perfect. Several of the warring factions are not signatories, and only concerted intervention by outside powers, including the African Union, the Arab League, and the United States produced the agreement. Nonetheless, it is a start and with continuing attention to and pressure on all parties, real peace might be possible.

Sudan is deeply divided along religious — Muslim and Christian — and ethnic — African and Arab — lines. Fighting broke out in Darfur, a region the size of France in Sudan, when rebels had had enough of discrimination and neglect by the Sudanese government, which is more Arab and Islamist in Khartoum. A bitter and bloody struggle ensued.

The Sudan government has used militias called janjaweed, drawn from nomadic Arab tribes, to do their dirty work. The janjaweed gained an international reputation for atrocities, using arson, looting and rape to terrorize rebels and their supporters. As many as 180,000 people are thought to have been killed since fighting began and more than 2 million people have been driven into refugee camps.

The situation in Darfur is routinely described as “genocide.” If there is any reluctance to use that word, it is because conceding that “genocide” has occurred would create an international obligation to take action. And leading powers, especially those of the United Nations Security Council, have no inclination to become involved militarily.

As a result, regional nations have been forced to shoulder the responsibility for bringing the sides to a deal. Nigeria has played a leading role, hosting talks by the African Union for nearly two years. When negotiators reached the brink of an agreement, an international team came in to hammer out final details and pressure the two sides. The result calls for a ceasefire, disarming of the janjaweed, the integration of rebel fighters into Sudan’s armed forces, and a multilateral protection force for civilians. Rebel factions will have a majority in Darfur’s three state legislatures and a member will be a senior adviser to the president of Sudan. Darfur will keep a larger share of the revenue from its resources.

There are flaws in the agreement. The most important is the failure of two other rebel groups to sign. A faction of the largest rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, led by Mr. Minni Arcua Minnawi, is a party to the deal. A rival faction leader, Mr. Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur, and the Justice and Equality Movement are not. Not only does this mean that the fighting will continue, but it gives Khartoum an opportunity to try to play the factions off one another.

It is a challenge the Sudan government is sure to take up. Khartoum has shown little inclination to honor past agreements, including a 2004 ceasefire in Darfur or the agreement it signed over a year ago with other rebels in southern Sudan. It has ignored a 2004 Security Council resolution to disarm the janjaweed.

That means that the success of the peace agreement rests on the readiness of outside powers to enforce it. Governments must be prepared to provide peacekeeping forces to protect civilians and ensure that aid groups can get to the displaced. The African Union currently has 7,000 troops in Sudan, but they have been unable — or unwilling — to enforce the peace. The peacekeepers must be expanded and given more aggressive rules of engagement.

While African nations should lead, it has become clear that the authority of the United Nations is required. Sudan had refused to accept U.N. peacekeepers until a deal was signed. That obstacle has been lifted. That may mean merely changing the peacekeepers’ helmets and expanding their number, but more pressure must be brought to bear to ensure that the deal is honored. The U.N. must get serious about enforcing this agreement.

Other parties must be pressured as well. The rebels that refused to sign should be isolated through a travel ban and a freeze placed on their assets. Neighboring countries such as Chad and Eritrea must be forced to end their assistance to rebel groups.

Being unable to enforce the agreement will ensure its failure. That will not only plunge Darfur back into fighting, but could lead to a humanitarian disaster: The U.N. has warned that it cannot feed the millions displaced in Sudan without additional funds and forces to protect aid workers.

Equally troubling, the involvement of neighboring countries means that the fighting could spill over borders. A return to war would once again demonstrate the inability of the U.N. to fulfill its mandate to be a force for peace in the world. Much rides on the realization of peace in Darfur.

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