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Scorched Earth in Darfur

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This image — the Darfurian town of Abu Surouj, after it was burned to the ground by Sudanese government and proxy militia forces last month — is a sobering reminder that the genocide in Darfur is far from over. The photo accompanies another intrepid piece of reporting by the irreplaceable Lydia Polgreen, who provides stark proof that, in the chilling phrase with which she begins her article, “the janjaweed are back.”

The tale of this town’s — as well as multiple others’ — recent destruction provides a stark rejoinder to those who contend that the active military campaign in Darfur largely ended in 2004. As Polgreen reports, the uncompromising counter-insurgency tactics employed in the early years of the genocide have been resuscitated with little compunction:

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase — one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

These attacks deeply exacerbate the already precarious situation of displaced Darfurians, cutting them off from aid, forcing them still further from their land, and sharply reawakening the fear in which they must constantly live. Sudanese government spokesmen defend their army’s activities as necessary to secure areas from bandits and rebels, unabashedly affirming that “there is nothing abnormal about a government doing this.” While the rebels are also intimately responsible for Darfur’s deteriorating security situation, surely there is little “normal” about a government bombing its own civilians. Both rebels and government forces need to immediately accede to the rapid deployment of UN peacekeepers, for any meaningful peace accord is unsustainable without their active civilian protection.

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Drew Barrymore Helps Fight Hunger in Kenya

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For the past couple of months, we’ve seen how political unrest in Kenya can spark a food crisis in a normally stable place. Thankfully, this crisis has not gone unnoticed. Drew Barrymore, for one, decided to pitch in. From the UN News Center.

The United States actress Drew Barrymore today announced that she would donate $1 million to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), where she is an Ambassador Against Hunger, to help the agency feed thousands of Kenyan schoolchildren.

The personal donation kicks off WFP’s ‘Fill the Cup’ challenge to the US to raise enough funds to help feed 59 million children around the world for a year.

Speaking on the Oprah Winfrey Show on US television, where she announced the donation, Ms. Barrymore said she had witnessed first-hand the impact hunger has on poor children during two visits to Kenya in the past two years.

“I have seen with my own eyes what a difference a simple cup of nutritious porridge can make in a child’s life,” she said. “It helps them learn, stay healthy and sets them on track for a bright future.”

Read more about Fill the Cup.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Hillary promises to press on regardless of the results today in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The BBC reports from the Obama bus.

Top Stories

>>Ukraine – Gazprom, Russia’s state natural gas company, cut a quarter of its gas flow to Ukraine yesterday and threatened another 25 percent cut today to force the nation to pay a debt of $600 million. A similar incident occured two years ago when Russia unilaterally renegotiated the price of natural gas supplied to the Ukraine. Europe, which draws 20 percent of its gas from Gazprom pipelines crossing the Ukraine, has expressed concern about the reliability of Gazprom’s gas. The Ukraine has threatened to restrict the gas flow to Europe if Gazprom proceeds with further cuts.

>>China – China announced today that it intends to increase military spending by almost 18 percent this year to $59 billion (compared to the $439 billion — not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — spent last year by the U.S.). Yesterday the Pentagon released a report criticizing the lack of transparency in China’s military spending, which, it says, “poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation,” and its development of the ability to destroy enemy satellites.

>>Iraq – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his second day in Iraq, called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops, saying their presence has only caused “descruction and division.”

>>Iran – The United Nations Security Council enacted a third round of sanctions (resolution 1803) against Iran yesterday, which imposes a travel ban on Iranians suspected of involvement with a nuclear weapons program and further restricts the activities of Iranian banks.

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U.N. Human Rights Chief to Leave Post

a famous maxim of Theodore Roosevelt that Sudan analyst John Prendergast frequently uses to characterize the Bush administration’s Darfur policy. By limiting its action to sharp rhetoric, Prendergast contends, the U.S. has effectively pursued a policy of “speaking loudly and carrying a toothpick.” Vocal condemnation of countries’ human rights policies, as deplorable as they may be, is not the only way to induce a change in behavior, and Arbour is simply articulating the necessity of working within the UN system. When faced with the alternatives of unilateralism or inaction, this remains a laudable goal, even if some aspects of the UN, such as the Human Rights Council — over which, incidentally, Arbour’s office exercises no control — fall short of the ideal level of reform. Instead of merely pointing its fingers at the transparent violations of notorious human rights abusers, the U.S. should work with the UN to effectively address these issues — and should focus on cleaning up its own act as well.

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Happy Anniversary?

February 29th marked the fourth anniversary of President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s departure from Haiti. Since that time the United Nations’ seventh peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) has been on the ground ensuring that Haiti’s transformation to a more secure, stable and capable state is on track. Progress has been made since 2004, thanks to the UN, the leadership of Brazil in peacekeeping, and the support of donors, the U.S. and Canada. Successful national elections in 2006 gave Haiti a democratically elected president, Rene Preval. It also ushered in an unprecedented period of consensual politics, where a broad range of political parties have engaged in the rebuilding institutions, and more important, the Haitian state. Finally, on-the-ground security has also improved since last year. MINUSTAH, with the full agreement of the Government of Haiti, launched a very aggressive gang eradication program that has reduced violence and kidnappings in Port au Prince. But the clock is ticking.Real progress on the ground has been slow for Haitians. In spite of improved economic growth (at 3 percent last year) Haitians remain dependent on international humanitarian aid and Diaspora resources to survive ($1.65 billion, or 35% of GDP). Job creation programs have been slow to bring in the vast ranks of the unemployed, and decentralized assistance outside of the capital is still lagging. Finally, elections scheduled for this April that would have completed a cycle of constitutionally mandated votes for new Senators have been postponed, and the head of the electoral council dismissed. Such delays are not new to Haiti. But these signal a need to monitor more closely conditions on the ground which could become a tipping point if left to fester.

Although the UN has learned its lessons about early exits from unstable countries from the its experiences in Haiti, and more recently Timor, it will take at least three to five years more of continuous UN presence in Haiti to ensure that a new police force is in place, and that a successive democratic election for president allows for a non-violent succession. UN Security Council Resolution 1780, approved in October 2007, renewed the MINUSTAH mission through 2008. But it also required that in this unique effort to provide security and development in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, that there be benchmarks of progress for the mission to continue. This is a tall order for the international community, but one that it avoids at its peril. For the U.S. Haiti should remain a priority as the presence of a weak state at our third border not only invites trouble, but also threatens the future of the Dominican Republic, and other regional neighbors. Saving Haiti should again be a priority of U.S. foreign policy and also for the UN. Only Haitians, however, in country and abroad, can help realize a more secure future. A policy of partnership could go a long way to achieving this goal.

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Paging Rubin and Pletka…

Kevin Drum and Jeffrey Lewis offer some background on this important Washington Post scoop on the IAEA’s confrontational meeting with Iranian officials last week. I don’t much to add to the story other than to point out that also last week, American Enterprise Institute scholars Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka railed against Mohammed elBaradei’s alleged anti-Americanism in the Wall Street Journal and accused him of mounting a “single-minded crusade to rescue favored regimes from charges of proliferation.”

In fact, elBaradei disclosed damning evidence about Iran’s nuclear program on the eve of an important Security Council vote on sanctions. Once again, IAEA delivers. And once again, its critics have egg on their face.

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