The short, slight Parisian whose motorcade roared through Khartoum in mid-June was on familiar ground. Bernard Kouchner--France's new Foreign Minister--first went to Sudan three decades ago, during its bloody civil war, while running a little start-up relief group called Doctors Without Borders. With his former organization now a Nobel Laureate, Kouchner is back, trying to end the tragedy in Darfur, where government-supported militias have been rampaging for four years. He told TIME he was outraged by the death toll (upwards of 200,000, by some estimates), saying the world must "yell and make noise" about people's suffering.
Kouchner has spent his career making noise. That has alienated him from his longtime Socialist Party colleagues--they're furious both that he supported Saddam Hussein's overthrow and that he joined the Cabinet of their archfoe, new President Nicolas Sarkozy. In May they threw Kouchner out of the party.
Kouchner does have allies in the U.S. (He speaks fluent English and has taught at Harvard.) President Bush announced new sanctions in May against 31 Sudanese companies. But Khartoum's officials say the U.S. has overblown the crisis and punished the wrong people. "The feeling is very negative and angry toward the U.S. now," Finance Minister El Zubair Ahmed Al Hassan told TIME.
The feeling is mutual. On June 24, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Kouchner to discuss how to further turn up the heat. That's no easy feat with an intransigent Sudan still being protected by its ally China. But Kouchner, with his long history in war-torn Sudan, at least brings a new and hopeful element to the table: credibility with both sides.