Editorial | African Union Summit

Rejecting Bashir's genocide

The African Union can't stop the worsening violence in Sudan's Darfur region, but it did keep Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from assuming the presidency of the the 53-member bloc.

The man accused of stoking the genocide in Darfur had assumed he would get that post during this week's summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Wrong. African leaders attending the meeting instead chose President John Kufuor of Ghana as the union's top official.

Bashir had good reason to think the job was his: African leaders last year denied him Sudan's turn at the AU's helm because of the genocide that continues to unfold in Darfur. The caveat was that he could be president this year, if Darfur were calm.

Calm is not the word to describe the turmoil in Sudan and neighboring countries. Hell is, and much of it is due to Bashir's government.

At least 200,000 Darfuris have been killed since fighting broke out in 2003 between government-backed militias and rebels. Millions are displaced within Sudan or have fled over its border to Chad.

Violence is no longer contained to Darfur and the border with Chad. It now is spilling into the Central African Republic and deeper into Chad. Here's how bad it has become: Chadians are fleeing to Sudan to avoid instability in their homeland.

As if civilians haven't suffered enough, humanitarian aid groups say they may have to suspend activities in Darfur because their workers have also become targets.

With these dire events, summit participants would have undermined the African Union by putting Bashir in charge. Still, neither this show of spine nor the union's weak peacekeeping mission in Darfur is protecting civilians.

Neither the African leaders, President Bush, or the United Nations Security Council has been able to persuade Bashir and his National Islamic Front party to end the violence. Bush has done as much as anyone to stop the genocide, yet his and the United Nations' efforts have been intermittent and insufficient.

The person who has the best chance to influence Bashir and the Islamic Front is Chinese President Hu Jintao. He left China yesterday for an eight-nation tour in Africa to bolster deepening ties there.

China's economic relationship with Africa includes a lucrative oil contract with Sudan. It is that very thirst for oil that has led China to stymie stronger U.N. measures against Sudan. But Hu's hunger for oil - Africa supplies about one-third of China's crude oil imports - is accompanied by his desire to see China ascend as a world power.

That is more likely to happen if Hu learns how to exercise his nation's leverage when atrocities such as in Sudan occur. He can begin to do that by pressing Bashir to stem the violence and allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.