At stake in Sudan

The critical conditions that prevail in Darfur are causing immense suffering. Both sides of the conflict - the government of Sudan and its allied forces, as well as all the opposition groups in Darfur - must understand that civilians should no longer fall victim to their political disputes.The Sudanese government's consent to the deployment of the UN/African Union mission, which aims to keep peace in the region, is a welcome development. But the mandate of this mission must be strong enough to allow for full protection of civilians. Moreover, the force must have sufficient manpower and funding to put this vital objective into practice. The countries and institutions that have committed additional funds in order to help secure the success of this mission - notably France, Spain, and the European commission - should all be applauded.

It is important for international actors to assure Sudan's government that the UN/AU mission will not strive for regime change. At the same time, the Sudanese government must be fully aware that only by adhering to past commitments and by cooperating in helping to prepare, deploy, and maintain the mission will the international community be encouraged to continue its support.

As for the Darfur opposition, the recent efforts by some of its leaders to overcome fragmentation and reunify their movement are welcome. It is essential that all opposition groups achieve agreement about their aims and negotiating positions. Only then can they act as credible partners of the international community and the Sudanese government. All parties to the conflict must realise that, ultimately, there is no way to end their dispute other than through an equitable and sustainable peace agreement. The return of internally displaced persons, and care for them, must be a core component of any such arrangement.

Responsible people around the globe, particularly politicians and journalists, must focus on Darfur. The suffering of millions of victims and refugees remains as gruesome as ever. Now that there are signs of possible stabilisation, it is time to prepare for increased development assistance and humanitarian aid.

Economically advanced countries should meet their global responsibility and help Darfur move towards renewal. This increased assistance should emerge from a refocusing of national development cooperation programmes. In facilitating the complex relations between the international community and local actors in Darfur, the UN currently plays an indispensable role and must be supported. China in particular should use its considerable influence in Sudan to bring the country's decision-makers to a peaceful settlement of the dispute.

Moreover, because Darfur is emblematic of wider difficulties, the international community must look beyond the immediate circumstances and increase efforts to deal with the threats that have played a role in the disaster, such as climate change and environmental degradation. Indeed, the accelerating expansion of deserts will likely lead to a decrease of agricultural yields, less water, and possibly further conflicts.

Similar conditions exist in several locations worldwide. So the global nature of this problem must be addressed in places where environmental degradation is already bringing about a dangerous deterioration in peoples' lives. Early prevention is required.

Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic; this article is co-signed by Prince Hassan Bin Talal, André Glucksmann, Vartan Gregorian, Mike Moore, Michael Novak, Mary Robinson, Yohei Sasakawa, Karel Schwarzenberg, George Soros, Desmond Mpilo Tutu and Richard von Weizsäcker.