By Rob Crilly | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Khartoum, Sudan - Diplomatic maneuvering over Darfur reached a crescendo in the past week as the international community keeps up pressure on Sudan to allow in UN peacekeepers.
A 7,000-strong African Union force has failed to end the bloodshed in a region where more than 200,000 people have died and two and half million been forced from their homes.
Despite renewed threats of sanctions last week from Britain and the US, the United Nations' special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliason, said Monday that the international community "was happy" with Sudan's recent concession to allow 3,000 UN peacekeepers to support the AU troops in Darfur.
But among both opposition politicians and ordinary people in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, there appears to be a growing sense of impatience with the government's inability to work with the international community to stem the crisis in Darfur.
"We think that the government is the cause of this problem because of its policies of human rights violations and killings, and is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe," says Abdi Rahman Alghali, the deputy general secretary of the opposition Umma Party. "We think the African Union force is unable to protect civilians, so we support the [UN's efforts] to protect civilians and the work of the humanitarian agencies."
Several humanitarian agencies, including Oxfam and Mercy Corps, said Monday that increased violence forced them to suspend their work in the town of Um Dukun in Darfur. The agencies said the move would disrupt services to some 100,000 people.
Eventually the UN wants to see a joint "hybrid force" of 20,000.
Lots of talk, little action
But even as last week's deal was struck, many Sudan watchers pointed out that Khartoum had a history of letting its commitments slide.
Indeed, Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the UN, thought he had obtained a similar agreement back in November only to see the Sudanese government find excuses in the small print to back out.
"We hear a lot of talk, but there has been no action," says Mr. Alghali.
The British and US threat of fresh sanctions is seen as a way of keeping pressure on Khartoum - a city where oil wealth is being rapidly converted into shiny office blocks, new hotels, and golf courses.
But over the weekend, Ban Ki Moon, secretary-general of the UN, urged Britain and the US in particular to allow Sudan more time to comply.
"My position is that when the moment of truth comes and we know that they will not be faithful in implementing this commitment, then I will leave it to Security Council members to take the necessary measures against Sudan," he said.
The idea is met with derision by some of those operating at the sharp end of Sudanese public life.
Alfred Taban, editor in chief of the Khartoum Monitor, one of the few independent newspapers in the country, says the Sudanese people want decisive measures.
"How many resolutions have there been - including one to make the government disarm the janjaweed [Arab militias]?" he asks. "So what more time does Ban Ki Moon need?
"The Sudanese people are becoming very angry at the lack of action, but they cannot talk, they cannot say anything because the media is all controlled by the government," says Mr. Taban.
He knows only too well how the government controls the press. His paper has been shut down 10 times in its seven-year history.
Like many here, he believes that Khartoum has no interest in ending the war in Darfur. After ceding control of the oil-rich south of Sudan following its own civil war, he says the government fears Darfur may also go it alone.
"The answer is that pressure must be kept on the government to find some middle ground with the Darfuris, to give them something, but at the moment there is no progress at all on finding a political solution," he says in his air-conditioned office above the paper's cramped newsroom.
Pushing Khartoum into a corner?
That argument falls on deaf ears among government supporters, including those who campaigned for the South's independence and are now members of a government of national unity.
Ghazi Suleiman, a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought Khartoum for more than two decades, says talk of sanctions undermines recent progress.
"I would like to see President Bush say that Sudan did the right thing in accepting the package and that he looks forward to more cooperation instead of talking about sanctions. This causes us and our parties big problems," he says at his Khartoum home.
He insists that aid agencies exaggerate the scale of the humanitarian disaster, which results in unfair criticism from the West.
"They just come after us like a dog hunting a rabbit. The dog knows why it is hunting the rabbit but the rabbit does not," he says.
At the open-air Ozone cafe, where jazz gently buzzes in the background and increasingly wealthy Sudanese sip cappuccinos and nibble at cheesecake, there is little talk of Darfur - it could be a world away.
But when the topic is raised, many express sympathy for those in Darfur.
A young teacher, who gives her name only as Intesar, says international forces are the answer. Everyone in the small group with her nods in agreement. Most express similar views, but request not to be quoted, even anonymously, for fear of government.
"Khartoum must accept international forces to protect the people there and I think sanctions - targeted at the people responsible, not general ones that would affect ordinary people - would make Khartoum look for a solution more quickly," she says.