Just a few week ago, in a refugee camp in a dry, bare, remote section of eastern Chad, people from the Darfur region of Sudan -- men in white robes, women dressed in the brightest of colors -- who fled across the border to escape death were telling Sen. Barack Obama they wanted to go home.
Sometimes words got lost as translators switched from English to French to Arabic and back again in the sandy-walled building where the men and women sat apart.
But the intent was clear.
They could not leave the Mile Refugee Camp -- where 15,333 Sudanese made a life in huts, tents and shelters with plastic tarp walls -- and return to Sudan unless United Nations peacekeeping soldiers were deployed to prevent them from being murdered and pillaged.
In the 20 days since Obama visited the camp with U.S. reporters, the prospects for saving ethnic Africans in Darfur from more genocidal violence from Sudan-backed Arab militias have turned even bleaker.
The Sudan government launched new offensives after the U.N. on Aug. 31 authorized sending in a 22,000-member military force to replace the struggling African Union mission in Sudan -- 7,000 overwhelmed and overextended soldiers. But the U.N. will not send in blue-helmeted peacekeepers without permission from Sudan.
Sudanese President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir is steadfast in his opposition to allowing in an international force, though he may let AU soldiers stay beyond their Sept. 30 mandate.
The United States labeled the Sudan slaughter a genocide two years ago. President Bush told the U.N. this week that there should be a military intervention over the objections of the Sudan government. He tapped Andres Natsios, the former chief of the Agency for International Development, as a special envoy.
"There is considerable behind-the-scenes diplomacy taking place right now that I am not at liberty to discuss, but at some point it will become known," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday.
In Congress, Darfur is an issue that transcends partisanship; still, a bill imposing economic and other sanctions on Sudan has stalled for more than a year.
'We're not happy about it'
On Wednesday came word that there finally is a deal; a controversial sentence in the legislation concerning divestment -- of particular interest to Illinois -- was dropped, at the insistence of Bush and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The dropped language could have been taken as an affirmation of the legal ability of a state to ban state pension funds from investments linked to Sudan.
Earlier this year, Illinois passed a law, sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), barring state pension funds from doing business with companies having ties to Sudan. The Illinois divestment law was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed last month.
"While it is not perfect,'' said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), "... it does not include the divestiture language ... whatever we do, we cannot allow this genocide to continue.''
Said Obama, "We're not happy about it, but I think it's important for us to get something done.''
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