June 18, 2007 11:00 pm

June 20 is World Refugee Day. This gives us an opportunity to focus on refugees, particularly those of Darfur where a scorched earth campaign by the Sudanese government has, by direct violence, disease and starvation, already has claimed as many as 400,000 lives. In all, about 2.3 million Darfuris have fled their homes and communities and now reside in a network of internally displaced persons camps in Darfur, with at least 200,000 more living in refugee camps in Chad. These refugees and displaced persons are completely dependent on the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations for their very livelihood — food, water, shelter and health care.

The approximately 6 million inhabitants of Darfur are among the poorest in Africa. They exist largely on either subsistence farming or nomadic herding. Even in good times, the Darfuri people face a very harsh and difficult life; these are not good times in Darfur.

The current crisis in Darfur began in 2003. After decades of neglect, drought, oppression and small-scale conflicts in Darfur, two rebel groups — the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement — mounted a challenge to Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. These groups represent agrarian farmers who are mostly non-Arab black African Muslims from a number of different tribes. President al-Bashir's response was brutal.

In seeking to defeat the rebel movements, the government of Sudan increased arms and support to local tribal and other militias, which have come to be known as the Janjaweed. Their members are composed mostly of Arab black African Muslims who herd cattle, camels, and other livestock. They have wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, and systematically murdered, tortured and raped hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. These attacks occur with the direct support of the government of Sudan's armed forces. No portion of Darfur's civilian population has been spared violence, murder, rape and torture.

Another 1 million Darfuris still live in their villages, under the constant threat of bombings, raids, murder, rape and torture. Their safety depends on the presence of the under-funded and under-manned African Union (AU) peace-keeping force, numbering just 7,400 troops and personnel.

The Save Darfur Coalition calls for emphasis of the following objectives toward which the United States, the U.N., and the international community must focus their efforts in order to end this crisis. They must apply strong pressure to accompany more intensive and coherent diplomacy with Khartoum:

Ceasefire: There needs to be a ceasefire respected by all parties to the conflict. There have been cease-fires agreed to in the past, notably in the 2004 DPA and again when New Mexico Gove. Bill Richardson visited Khartoum in January 2007, but the government in particular has ignored them all.

Effective and Credible Peacekeeping Force to Protect Civilians: The full U.N. or U.N./AU hybrid peacekeeping force established by Resolution 1706 needs to be deployed to protect the civilian population. Only such a force can protect Darfur's vulnerable people and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

A renewed Darfur peace process: In order to achieve a permanent end to the genocide in Darfur, the effort to find a political solution must be renewed.

What Needs to Be Done to Achieve Those Key Goals: The Save Darfur Coalition insistently calls for various measures to pressure Khartoum to end the genocide. Such steps should include:

President Bush and world leaders must make peace in Darfur a top priority: It has been over two years since President Bush declared Darfur a genocide, and yet it continues.

The U.N. Security Council must enact and enforce tough multilateral sanctions against the Government of Sudan and individuals complicit in the genocide.

China must use its leverage on Khartoum: China has a great deal of influence on Sudan given its status as Sudan's top trading partner, its strong military ties and its protective role in the U.N. Security Council.

No-Fly Zone: The international community must set up and enforce a no-fly zone in Darfur to monitor, report on and halt hostile Sudanese military flights, thereby preventing the bombing of villages.

Humanitarian Aid: While efforts are pressed to protect civilians with peacekeepers and to broker internal agreement for a lasting end to the conflict, humanitarian aid and free access all over Darfur for it must be sustained.

Mary Rose Nichols is an Elgin resident.