CONDITIONS IN SOUTHERN SUDAN are becoming increasingly desperate. The war between the southern secessionists and the central government has wrought havoc over the past few years. Conditions are now made worse by infighting between the southerners themselves. The regime in Khartoum and the rebels are having another attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. If nothing comes of it, Sudan may be dangerously close to disintegration.
Early last month the US administration informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that thousands more people were in imminent danger of death through disease and starvation in southern Sudan unless aid reached them quickly. The civil war was a "human catastrophe" which presented insuperable obstacles to relief operations.
The example of Somalia comes immediately to mind. The United States has said officially that it is seriously considering the establishment of "safe havens" in Sudan. This would require endorsement by the United Nations and the deployment of foreign troops to ensure the delivery of relief supplies to the starving civilian population.
But it would also involve the international community, once again led by the United States, in settling Sudan's internal political problems. Faced willingly or otherwise -- and with scant prospects of success -- with a similar situation in Somalia, Bosnia and Cambodia, the United Nations will approach the task with little enthusiasm. The difference is that Sudan's regime is so unpopular abroad that there would be little political objection to assisting its demise.
Perhaps sensing this, the government in Khartoum has condemned the idea of enforced humanitarian intervention as an unwarranted interference in its affairs. But it is doing its cause no good at all by claiming that the extent of famine and disease is exaggerated and that the outside world has been "grossly misinformed".
Since the military takeover in 1989, the regime of General Omar Hassan al Bashir has flaunted its Islamic fundamentalist proclivities. This has won it few friends in the Middle East and aroused plenty of suspicion. The United States and several Arab countries have openly accused Sudan of lending material support to groups such as Hizbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The United States has only narrowly averted placing Sudan on its blacklist of countries deemed to be supporting terrorism. But it no longer approves licence applications for military-related...