The steady flow of bad news out of Sudan's Darfur region this summer continues to intensify. Aid agencies report a sharp increase in sexual attacks on displaced women (BBC), a new UN report says children are still being recruited by the Sudanese army and other armed groups, and more humanitarian workers were killed (VOA) in the last two weeks of July than in the previous two years of conflict. Adding to the concerns, UN peacekeeping officials are warning of a major military offensive by Sudanese forces in Darfur. "It was bad," says Jan Egeland, the UN's chief humanitarian official. "It's now becoming catastrophic" (NPR).
The UN Security Council has grappled with Darfur for more than two years, as the number of dead has grown to the hundreds of thousands and the displaced swelled to more than 2.5 million people. But Council members are now considering a plan to send at least 17,000 peacekeeping troops to the region—a force called for in Security Council Resolution 1679. Khartoum, however, has repeatedly refused such a force (Reuters). Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir warned this week that deployment would turn Darfur into a "graveyard" of Western troops (Mail & Guardian). Bashir proposes using around 10,000 Sudanese troops to secure Darfur, a plan that observers say only foreshadows more violence in the region. "This is showing their military intentions," says David Buchbinder, a Darfur researcher at Human Rights Watch, "I don't think this in any way is going to protect civilians" (NYT).
The Security Council was scheduled to discuss the situation in Darfur on Monday, but Sudan boycotted the meeting. Top U.S. official Jendayi E. Frazer met with Bashir in Khartoum on Tuesday but failed to convince him to accept UN troops. Instead, Bashir is sending an envoy to Washington (AP) to discuss the proposal. Since the May peace deal between the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, the burden of peacekeeping in Darfur has fallen on 7,000 African Union (AU) soldiers, whose mandate does not allow for enforcement of the cease-fire. The AU force—criticized as poorly managed and ineffective—will run out of money at the end of September, making a UN peacekeeping force vital (WashPost).
But if Khartoum continues to block a peacekeeping force, how quickly can the United Nations act? The Sudanese government has a history of ignoring the United Nations: it still denies supporting the Arab militias—known as janjaweed—behind most of the civilian murders and displacement, despite clear evidence of its involvement in this 2005 UN investigation (PDF) and many others. In the International Herald Tribune, Nick Grono and John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group argue that to stop the ongoing fighting in Sudan, the international community must target the Sudanese government's source of illicit funds. This Backgrounder documents the history of the government's involvement in the Darfur crisis.