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One year later, Darfur genocide pressing as ever

Darfur, a region in the west of the Sudan, has been the location of atrocities for several years. Thousands have been killed, raped or mutilated, which last year led to U.S. officials chastising the world for standing idly by.

Exactly one year ago today, Secretary of State Colin Powell used a widely publicized speech at the United Nations to address the situation as what it is: genocide.

One year later, little has changed for the afflicted. This cannot be said about the resolve of United States officials to end the plight of millions in Darfur and the surrounding regions, where refugees are holding out in camps with little food and water.

Apparently criticism over the administration’s handling of Iraq quickly moved Darfur to the backburner.

Astonishingly, even numbers about the conflict remain sketchy: The World Health Organization estimates at least 71,000 deaths while the United Nations pegs the number at 180,000. Both organizations readily admit that actual numbers are certain to be much higher. The numbers regarding how many individuals have been displaced are similarly murky, but the figure is said to exceed 2 million.

No matter how the numbers add up, it is a very grim situation.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof traveled to the region numerous times last year and brought back distressing tales that shockingly illustrated the gravity of the situation. Teenage girls are being raped, villages pillaged and entire regions ethnically cleansed.

With most of the nation’s military either still tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan or busy with cleanup and rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, military intervention seems unlikely, even if the administration was willing to do so. As Iraq continues to be compared to Vietnam, nobody seems interested in getting into a situation many find reminiscent of Rwanda.

But there is no need to send troops; pressure on the international community has great potential to shed light on the situation, alleviate suffering or end it altogether.

The visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Sudan to initiate talks with the Sudanese government in July was a good step, but to ensure changes, diplomacy should not be abandoned as has happened in the past and must go beyond talks with Sudan.

Naturally, diplomacy will take time and effort. There is also no guarantee that pressure will lead to success.

The alternative, however – to ignore the problem while thousands suffer – is simply unacceptable. Considering the administration keeps espousing the value of democracy and freedom, the United States cannot afford to stand idly by. This may not be convenient or a “quick fix,” but at this point is the only viable option.