Hot Issue: Should aid agencies be urging the deployment of troops in Sudan?

Tony Blair is considering sending troops to Sudan after hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes in the Darfur region by an Islamic militia with links to the country's government.

NO - David Drew, Labour MP for Stroud

The view that the UK Government should seek military intervention in the Sudan is dangerously naive. Having just returned from another visit to the Sudan, it is clear that the situation in Darfur, while becoming a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions, also remains one of confusion and contradiction.

Of course, military involvement must be held as a fall-back position, but to take this option now would commit thousands more people to early death and uncertain, if any, gain. Rather, I believe that we must put maximum pressure on Khartoum to extend the peace process, from the north-south dialogue and pump up the aid.

The government of Sudan must take its fair share of blame for Darfur, but to imperil the peace process and to encourage the Balkanisation of the country would be foolhardy. Any analogy with the intervention in Iraq is misplaced and would signal to the Sudan Liberation Army, the main rebel force, that the Sudanese government may want to escalate the conflict in the Darfur region still further.

What the people begged us for when we met them in the camps was security, food and medical help, not a military escapade that would make Iraq seem like a tea party.

YES - Greg Austin, research director, Foreign Policy Centre

Aid agencies should advocate preparations for deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force to Darfur in Sudan.

Preparing for such a deployment is a necessary part of diplomatic pressure to force an end to the violence. Without it, diplomatic measures may well prove ineffective.

The forces should be predominantly from African and Arab countries, and must have an enforcement mandate, while operating the principle of caution ('do minimum harm') to protect refugees and settlements by force if necessary.

They must have a well-defined operational area, with geographic coordinates limited to western Sudan and neighbouring Chad, where many of the refugees are concentrated.

Deployment of troops should only be approved if it is accompanied by a coherent and publicised diplomatic strategy, endorsed by both the African Union and the UN.

It should be accompanied by measures to punish the perpetrators of war crimes, and by immediate provision of generous cash and humanitarian aid to the communities supporting both sides. The policy must be to drive a wedge between the fighters and the affected communities they currently lead or control.

YES - John Bercow, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

When I visited the internally displaced people's camps in Darfur three weeks ago, hundreds of people, existing in desperate conditions, told me they had fled government aircraft bombing and the savagery of Janjaweed militias. They all refused to go home because they would be killed or raped en route.

Meanwhile, Sudanese government ministers blamed rebels for the violence, ludicrously denied collaboration with the Janjaweed and implausibly claimed that the situation would soon be under control.

Unless, within 30 days, the UN can see unimpeded access for all humanitarian aid and the disarmament of the militias, two steps should be taken. First, it must impose targeted sanctions to squeeze the regime. Secondly, it should send troops to Darfur either by boosting the 300-strong African Union force or by deploying an EU/UN force. Its purpose? To ensure safe passage for all aid, to guard the camps and to enforce the ceasefire.

To those who say we have no right to interfere, I say we have no right not to do so. Tony Blair said in 2001 that if ever a repeat of Rwanda was threatened, Britain would have a moral duty to act. It is and we have.

NO - Marie Staunton, chief executive, Plan UK

It would undermine the political neutrality that NGOs need to deliver humanitarian aid. To do so would ally aid agencies with the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, who are calling for international troops. The entire body of humanitarian law - under which NGOs operate in conflict zones - is based on the idea that it is possible to separate humanitarian concerns from political action.

Relief is not our only duty under humanitarian law - protection of civilians is also essential. One million people are at risk from violence, rape and forced relocation. Agencies tread a fine line. They must work with the people of Darfur to make sure that the scale of the problem is understood while avoiding the political agenda of all sides.

An ill-considered call for troop deployment could breach the principle that aid workers hold dear - 'do no harm'. And, without a link to the African Union's political process, it could lead to even greater violations.

Over the past decade, the role of the humanitarian and the military has become increasingly confused - from the 'humanitarian war' in Kosovo to armed civilian contractors in Iraq. The space in which NGOs operate has never been under greater threat.

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