Washington With the Bush administration ordering new sanctions against the government of Sudan on Tuesday, experts said any hope of alleviating suffering in the war-torn Darfur region will depend on the questionable ability of the United States to gain broader international support.
President Bush, declaring that the U.S. "will not avert our eyes" from a crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced at least 2 million others, imposed a ban on Americans doing business with 31 mostly government-controlled Sudanese businesses, two leaders of the Sudanese government and a rebel chief.
Bush, who warned Sudan earlier this year that he would take action if President Omar Hassan al-Bashir failed to make way for a broader peacekeeping force in Darfur, said he also will seek tougher sanctions from the United Nations Security Council, including an arms embargo and a ban on Sudanese military flights over Darfur.
Critics and activists minimized the actions as greatly insufficient, saying Sudanese businesses are adept at finding ways around such sanctions. And they warned it would be tough to secure any new sanctions from the U.N. since China, a Security Council member and significant trading partner of Sudan, opposes new restrictions.
Yet some analysts also said the Bush administration's stepped-up pressure on Sudan, following through on a warning issued in April, could help compel the Khartoum government to accommodate a 23,000-member force of UN and African Union peacekeepers, something it has resisted.
"It may not be what turns Khartoum around," said Jennifer Cooke, co-director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But it does up the pressure. ... This set (of sanctions) will likely not be the magic bullet, but as part of a broader arsenal ... it could possibly mount pressure."
Bush had refrained from taking these steps while the new U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, sought to persuade Sudan through diplomacy to accept a broader peacekeeping force. But the White House ultimately concluded that Sudan's continued inaction demanded a stronger reaction.
"For too long, the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians," Bush said Tuesday, again describing the conflict as a "genocide." "I promise this to the people of Darfur: The United States will not avert our eyes to a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world."
On the ground in Sudan, the president's announcement raised few hopes of an early end to a war that is being called the worst humanitarian calamity in the world.
"Any statement holding the Sudanese government more accountable is good," said an aid worker reached by phone in Sudan who did not want to be identified for fear of government reprisal. "But to be honest, the idea that Sudan can be pressured to snap its fingers and turn off the war is just simplistic. There are too many armed groups in Darfur now-the army, the Janjaweed militias, the rebels and bandits. It's more dangerous and complicated than ever."
Sudan has been racked by civil war for decades. In western Darfur, the fighting has pitted mostly black African farming tribes against the Arab-dominated central government, which has used an Arab militia called the janjaweed to attack both rebels and ordinary villagers. More than 200,000 people have died, many from disease and hunger.