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Balkan Ghosts

You would need to have the heart of a Kremlin functionary to be unmoved by the scene that unfolded in Kosovo's capital, Priština, this week. There, in a fitting and just epilogue to the last mass crime of the twentieth century, Kosovar Albanians poured into the streets to celebrate their secession from the state that had so recently brutalized them.

Just nine years ago, the scenes and sentiments emerging from Priština were very different. By the late 1990s, having bloodied many other corners of the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Miloševic and his fellow Serb nationalists had turned their attention to Kosovo. Facing armed rebellion from the Kosovo Liberation Army--and restlessness from a population fed up with years of heavy-handed Serb rule--Miloševic set out to pacify the province using his favored tools: mass expulsion, systematic rape, and murder.

Fortunately for Kosovo, the world had seen this display from Miloševic before. And the world had learned a valuable lesson about dealing with him. There are only so many times you can ask a man like Miloševic to stop killing. Eventually, you have to regard him as a killer--and stop him yourself. Even French President Jacques Chirac, no great moralist in the realm of foreign affairs, recognized that the time had come to act. The continent "cannot accept having on its territory" a leader like Miloševic, he said. "Enough is enough."

Jacques Chirac was right: Enough was enough. And so, in March 1999, NATO began a bombing campaign designed to convince Miloševic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. In the end, NATO succeeded. The slaughter and sadism that had consumed the Balkans for a decade was soon over. Today, Kosovars can dance in the streets of a newly independent country. And their nightmare has a happy ending for one simple reason: because the West used its military might to save them.

Nine years later, and 2,000 miles to the south, another group--the people of Darfur--are waiting (still!) for the West to come to their rescue. During the four-plus years since the Sudanese regime unleashed a genocide in its country's western corner, the violence has ebbed and flowed. Over the last year, with a sizeable chunk of Darfur's population already huddled into camps, the destruction and killing seemed, thankfully, to slow. Meanwhile, the people of Darfur were urged to be patient. Help, in the form of a long-delayed U.N. peacekeeping force, was allegedly on the way.

But, in the last several weeks, there have been troubling signs that the genocide is far from over and that the situation is, once again, growing worse. This week brought fresh reports that the Sudanese military was bombarding Darfur from the sky--continuing a trend that began earlier this month, when a new wave of Darfuri refugees fled to Chad, following attacks on their towns by Arab militia and Sudanese aircraft. The episode reportedly killed 200; one aid worker quoted by Reuters described it as "the biggest and deadliest attack in many, many months." Days earlier, rebels backed by Sudan's government had pushed into Chad's capital in a bid to topple its ruler, Idriss Déby. Fighting in Chad has caused refugees to flee that country for Cameroon. Déby's government, meanwhile, is threatening to expel Darfuri refugees from Chad.

And what about the United Nations-African Union force that was supposed to put a halt to this insanity, starting with its deployment on January 1? Only 9,000 of the promised 26,000 troops are on the ground, meaning that the number of international troops is not much greater than it was when the old African Union mission--consisting of 7,000--patrolled Darfur. Sudan's president continues to wrangle over whether non-African troops can take part in the mission, a considerable impediment as the United Nations seeks to recruit additional personnel. As for the small number of troops that are on the ground--seven weeks into their mission, have they made progress toward slowing the carnage and chaos? Apparently not. The U.N. envoy to Darfur recently lamented that, "[o]ver the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently through events related to Chad."

Historical analogies are necessarily imperfect, but they can also be useful. And there are plenty of parallels between Darfur today and Kosovo in 1999. Both are home to populations with legitimate and long-standing grievances against their countries' central governments. Both saw unsavory rebel groups spring up in their territory in response to these grievances. Both had the misfortune to be ruled by men who had spent years violently struggling to hold together countries consisting of varied ethnic groups. And, when rebellions came to Kosovo and Darfur, both Belgrade and Khartoum decided to fight the guerrillas by targeting the civilian populations from which they sprang.

But the biggest, and most important, parallel is this: We asked Miloševic to stop killing. He did not. We have asked Sudan to stop killing. And still it kills. Yes, it occasionally appears willing to bargain. But, while Sudan bargains, the aircraft continue to roam over Darfur. The paltry U.N. forces on the ground can do nothing to stop them. And that is probably how things will continue to unfold, until this president or the next one remembers the example of Kosovo, puts together a credible NATO force, and finally says enough is enough.