United Nations Deploys Peackeeping Troops to Darfur

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The Darfur conflict may be coming closer to an end following the United Nations Security Council's unanimous decision to deploy a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force to Sudan's troubled region. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer talks about the recent developments.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away this week.

Coming up: a former NBA player becomes the chief of a local Sudanese community in Kansas. He is making decisions on everything from building roads in southern Sudan to education and health care, all from his remote outpost.

But first, we turn to an important development in the Darfur peace process. On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council issued a unanimous vote to send 26,000 U.N. peacekeepers into the Darfur region of Sudan. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the authorization of the peacekeeping operation to Darfur is a big step forward.

Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): You are sending a clear and powerful signal of your commitment to improve the lives of the people of the region, and close this tragic chapter in Sudan's history.

CORLEY: The four-year-old conflict has caused an estimated 200,000 deaths and dislocated more than two and a half million people. The U.N. resolution managed to win support from the resistant Sudanese and Chinese governments. Some observers are hesitant to celebrate the U.N. mission, which is said to be one of the largest peacekeeping efforts in the organization's history.

Joining us to talk about these developments is Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary for African Affairs at the U.S. State Department. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ambassador JENDAYI FRAZER (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa): Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

CORLEY: Ambassador, there are a lot of people who obviously are keeping track of this story, but there others who are somewhat confused by it all. And I want you tell me what exactly this means.

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, it's extremely important because for the first time, we have the government of Sudan agreeing to allow international peacekeepers to come to end the violence in Darfur. There's two major parts of the conflict. There's needing to get a peacekeeping force that's effective and capable with the right mandate. And secondly, we need to get a political agreement. And there's going to be negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania August 3rd and 4th to bring together the rebels.

We've said what's going on in Darfur is a genocide, and if it's a genocide, you've got to stop the violence. And the only way to do that is by having military forces there to keep the peace.

CORLEY: Well, this news of 26,000 peacekeepers sounds promising, but there's some concern about Sudan being a good faith partner in this initiative. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made the good-faith-partner comment. So, how solid is Sudan's commitment to this U.N. mission?

Ambassador FRAZER: I hope that Sudan's commitment will be solid. We do have a history in which they make commitments and then do some backtracking. But in this case, the negotiation has been going on for at least a year now. I know when I was out there last August, I came back saying that I thought that the government would eventually accept a peacekeeping force in Darfur, and now they've done so. This resolution also had extensive Sudanese comment and input into it. And so it is as much their document as it is all the rest of the international community and Security Council's resolution. And so I do hope that they will be faithful to the decisions made in this Security Council resolution.

CORLEY: Can you give us a time span for the Security Council negotiations?

Ambassador FRAZER: I think it's taken since, probably, May when President Bush announced that he was planning to put more sanctions on the government of Sudan. And then very quickly, they agreed to a hybrid peacekeeping operation as proposed to them by U.S. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the A.U. chairperson, former President Konare. They quickly accepted the report that outlined what this hybrid force would look like, and then since the end of May, we've been negotiating the actual resolution.

CORLEY: If you could, tell us when the operation will begin and how the 7,000 African Union peacekeepers who are already in Sudan will be integrated into the U.N. forces.

Ambassador FRAZER: While the Security Council resolution sets out three phases, we believe that the initial operational capability, in terms of headquarters, should start no later than October 2007. That operational headquarters was prepared to assume command authority over our advisers to the AMIS Force, the African Union force. And then by no later than December 31st, they would assume full operational authority. So the 7,000 troops would be brought under the U.N. command and control.

CORLEY: Well, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had reservations about participating in this mission. He stated his military planners were not ready. So, ready or not ready?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, that is - that's one of the concerns. That's one of reasons the United States supported the resolution was not a co-sponsor, because we felt that U.N. DPKO should incorporate the 7,000 troops sooner than December 31st. This U.N. secretary has said it does not have the planning capacity to do so. So we will work on as soon as possible.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Well, of course, in any negotiation there's give and take, and it was reported that the Sudanese U.N. envoy edited the text of the initiative at the British mission to the United Nations. So what terms did the Security Council give the Sudanese, and what terms wouldn't they take?

Ambassador FRAZER: I think the Sudanese - they did have an opportunity to have input into this resolution, which is why we think that they should definitely implement it. The terms that they were concerned about or discussions about future sanctions, they wanted out any discussion of the U.N. panel of experts which talked about their negative - bad practices in Darfur. And they were also concerned about the strength of the Chapter Seven Security Council resolution, but we kept in the Chapter Seven that will protect civilians, protect the peacekeepers, and protect humanitarian workers.

CORLEY: What role did China play in these peacekeeping efforts?

Ambassador FRAZER: On the Security Council, China wanted to make sure that the government of Sudan would respect this resolution. So I believe that they helped the government of Sudan to have input into the drafting of the text.

CORLEY: Well, China had objected to prior attempts to sanction Sudan or to send peacekeeping forces there. Do you think China felt pressured to help with the negotiations?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, I do think China has felt pressure to help with the negotiations. And that's been an ongoing pressure. And I certainly do think that President Bush's announcement of sanctions on the government of Sudan was definitely part of the government accepting a hybrid operation in the first place. China has also said that it will send peacekeepers itself, particularly engineering battalions to Darfur. And we certainly welcome that contribution and thinks it's extremely important for the success of this hybrid operation.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Well, what about the U.S. role in the negotiations?

Ambassador FRAZER: The United States played an important role. We were very concerned, especially to get the African Union forces accepted into the hybrid so that they could get this proper financing and logistical support that they needed. So we wanted a concrete timeline placed into the Security Council resolution, which we got. We also wanted to make sure that we had a strong Chapter Seven mandate. And we wanted to make sure that there was unified single chain of command over this force, so that even though it was hybrid A.U. and U.N., the military operational instructions would be coming from a single chain, from the U.N. to the Special Representative Adada to the Force Commander Agwai.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Well, it's been reported, ambassador, that the Bush administration did welcome the council's decision to adopt the resolution, but declined to co-sponsor the resolution on the grounds that it was not tough enough. How much tougher did the administration want the resolution to be?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, I think that we wanted to - the Chapter Seven mandate to talk about not only protect civilians but to protect civilians who are under eminent threat, and that's language that has been consistent with all previous resolutions. And so we saw no reason to change the language. Ultimately, we're satisfied that when we talk about protecting civilians, that the peacekeepers on the ground will make sure to carry out that mandate in the most robust manner to save civilian lives.

CORLEY: Jendayi Frazer is the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the State Department. She's also a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. And she joined us from the State Department.

Thank you so much.

Ambassador FRAZER: Thank you very much.

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