Lawmakers Pressure Obama To Act On Sudan

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The much-heralded peace agreement that ended a decades-old conflict between North and South Sudan is unraveling, according to U.S. lawmakers. They are accusing President Obama of dropping the ball on Sudan despite his campaign promise to make it a priority.


A peace deal that ended a civil war in Sudan could unravel and the situation in Darfur in the west of the country isn't getting any better. Those were the messages from several members of Congress and from advocates today. They stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to live up to its rhetoric on Sudan, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The chairman of the congressionally-created U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom just came back from Sudan, painting, as he put it, a bleak picture.

Leonard Leo is worried about the fate of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the 20-year civil war between the Islamist in the north and the mainly Christian and animist rebels in the south. And he accused the Obama administration of standing on the sideline.

Mr. LEONARD LEO: There is a fist fight taking place between the north and the south, and there's a big group of people or countries standing around watching, but nobody's stepping in to break it up right now, and that's what's going on, and that's the problem. The rest of the world is going to take its signal from the United States. If we step in and try to create parity and fairness and equivalence in this process, other countries will step in as well.

KELEMEN: At a news conference on Capitol Hill today, Leo was joined by several members of Congress, including Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, who said he's not only alarmed by the recent arrest of officials from southern Sudan; he's also worried about reports that AK-47s are being shipped once again to government-backed militias in the south.

Representative CHRIS SMITH (Republican, New Jersey): We are concerned about the infiltration of arms in southern Sudan. That should raise alarm bells like nothing else. Every time there has been a genocide, there have always been early warning signs.

KELEMEN: And the arms shipments, he says, are the latest signs of trouble in Sudan. Smith says it's time for President Obama to show some leadership to keep the comprehensive peace agreement, or CPA, from collapsing.

Rep. SMITH: The Nobel Peace Prize winner has to use the gravitas that he has gained from that great award and say, Sudan is my priority. I'm not going to allow the CPA to unravel, and we're going to end the genocide in Darfur.

KELEMEN: A fellow Republican, Congressman Frank Wolf, from Virginian, added that the people of Sudan are, in his words, crying out for nothing less.

The Obama administration laid out its Sudan policy earlier this year, saying it is paying attention to both the north-south process and to Darfur. And State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley pointed out today that the administration's special envoy has been hard at work with a grueling travel schedule.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, U.S. State Department): Special Envoy Scott Gration has been in the region countless times. He is there as we speak. So the idea that we have not been focused on Sudan is flat wrong.

KELEMEN: The administration also says that it has a list of incentives and pressures to keep the peace process on track. But Congressman Donald Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey, is looking for follow-up.

Representative DONALD PAYNE (Democrat, New Jersey): The framework is fine. The implementation is what I see as lacking. And so, we have a person who has put in a tremendous amount of work. I don't think any envoy has spent as much time, physical time, in the region. However, we need to look at results.

KELEMEN: The calendar is unforgiving for diplomats working on this issue. Sudan is due to hold elections in April of 2010. And in 2011, southerners are supposed to hold a referendum on whether they want to be independent. The challenge for the U.S. and others in the international community is to help make sure these votes are fair.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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