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Some 7.1 million people one-third of the population of the African nation of Sudan - face famine this year. Yet the fundamentalist Islamic military regime of Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir refuses to cooperate with possible donors from Western nations.

Condemning millions to suffering and possible starvation simply because dictatorial leaders want to maintain some kind of ideological purity would be a crime of genocide.The fact that Bashir unwisely chose to back Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the gulf war - they seem to share some unpleasant personality traits - has left him without many foreign supporters. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for instance, no longer give his bankrupt regime subsidies.

This apparently does not disturb Bashir, whose ironic slogan remains in force - "We eat what we grow, we wear what we make."

It is difficult enough that the distribution of food is almost impossible given Sudan's primitive transportation system and enormous size - one-quarter the area of the United States.

Besides the ongoing problems of drought and an eight-year civil war, it is a major challenge to get American and U.N. food aid to those in need.

The regime refuses to allow relief shipments by air and has a history of harassing private charity workers. As a result, only 54,000 metric tons of grain arrived in January. If the country consumes its own limited supplies at the present rate, the people will have no food at all from July through September.

The resulting tragedy would dwarf the Ethiopian famine of 1984. The United Nations is trying to work out an answer, but time is running short. The grim shadow of hunger already is hovering over the innocent people of Sudan and their leaders don't seem to care.