Within two weeks, the United Nations is scheduled to begin deploying its biggest peacekeeping operation in the world to protect the millions displaced by war in Darfur, Sudan.
But U.N. planners are still short of helicopters and some key units. Activists are growing frustrated with the shortcomings of the international response to what the U.S. has called genocide.
African Union mediator Sam Ibok captured the mood best when he said recently that he is having a hard time thinking of any good news out of Sudan.
"We don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe the light that we see is the light of an approaching train and that is very troubling for many of us," Ibok said.
Ibok was part of the latest effort to revive Darfur peace talks, although most rebel groups didn't come and have since splintered even further.
Sudanese Government Rejects Key Units
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies — Ibok said part of the problem is that they see the government in Khartoum failing to follow through on a 2005 agreement that ended a separate — and even deadlier — conflict with rebels in the south of Sudan.
"The comprehensive peace agreement runs the risk of unraveling, and, if that happens, then you can even forget about peace in Darfur, and you can forget about peace in the Sudan," Ibok said.
The rebels in the south have worked out most of their differences with Khartoum and agreed to rejoin the government later this month. But peace efforts on Darfur in western Sudan remain stymied, and top U.N. peacekeeping official Jane Holl Lute says she's worried about the plans to deploy a large and mobile peacekeeping force jointly run by the U.N. and the African Union.
"We are concerned," Lute said. "It is clear that without the full support of the Sudanese government, as has been promised, this mission will not succeed."
The government in Khartoum wants only African troops in Darfur and has rejected key units — such as Nordic engineers, a Thai police battalion and special forces from Nepal.
Sudan has also imposed restrictions on night flights and water rights. Lute said it has been hard slogging, and U.N. member states haven't even committed enough helicopters.
"The member states of the international community continue to be rhetorically extremely strong, and we need to match that rhetoric with the resourcing," she said.
At a recent rally in Washington, actress-activist Mia Farrow expressed frustration at the slow pace of the international response.
"It is agonizing, and if it is agonizing for us, the real agony is the people in the camps, the people who are terrified day and night — no safety for them for almost five years. It is past time that the international community steps forward," Farrow said.
Calls for China to Intervene
Farrow said China — the host of the 2008 Olympic Games — could still bring Olympic ideals to Darfur by using its influence in Sudan to hold up oil contracts or stop arms sales.
"There is no way that Khartoum could be thumbing its nose at the international community this long without the full support of China," she said.
Beijing's special envoy on Darfur, Liu Guijin, told the Center for Strategic and International studies that it's not fair to exaggerate China's influence in Khartoum.
"We are sincere and we are positive in making our own part of a contribution to find a long-lasting fundamental solution to the Darfur issue," Liu said.
China has contributed 315 engineers to help the new peacekeeping operation. The U.S. hasn't offered troops, but it has been transporting African troops to Darfur and encouraging others to contribute.
The U.N.-African Union hybrid force is to take over Jan. 1 from the African Union Mission in Sudan — a weak and under-funded African force already there.
But Lute says Darfuris will mainly see different uniforms — not the strong mobile force the U.N. has been planning.
"There will be the raising of the U.N. flags, the force will be wearing blue berets, but largely it will be a re-hatted AMIS force initially," she said.
She cautioned that it will take time to build the 26,000 peacekeepers and police authorized by the U.N. Security Council.