Africa Update: Peace Strategy in Darfur

NPR Africa Correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton offers the latest news from Africa, including Darfur rebels agreeing on a joint peace strategy; actress and advocate Mia Farrow offering to trade places with a Darfur mediator who needs surgery; and the early, human remains of Lucy beginning a long trip from Ethiopia to America.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It's time again for Africa update. This week, Darfur rebels agree on a joint peace strategy. They had a planned talk with the Sudanese government. Actress and advocate Mia Farrow offers to trade places with the Darfur mediator who need surgery. And the early human remains of Lucy began a long trip from Ethiopia to America.

Back this week is NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibia Quist-Arcton. Welcome, Ofeibia.

OFEIBIA QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure to be with you.

CHIDEYA: Today, we're going to talk about developments related to Darfur in Sudan. So last Tuesday, after numerous failed attempts over many months, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved to plan to send a new joint peacekeeping force to Darfur. The U.N. secretary general welcomed the decision.

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. We must now move forward, in all haste.

CHIDEYA: Well, Ofeibia, tell us more about this hybrid force.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, as you heard Ban Ki-moon say, this force has been awaited in Darfur for many, many months now. Twenty-six thousand joint United Nations and African Union troops and police are apparently going to be deployed on the ground. For the past couple of years, it's just been 7,000 African troops who have tried but failed to protect civilians in Darfur, and also humanitarian workers.

So the U.N. giving the green light is, I think, a relief to many people, although, of course, they're waiting for the forces to arrive in Darfur. And this is only possible because, finally, Sudan came around. It has been resisting the deployment of international forces in Darfur. But Sudan's ambassador to the U.N. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad says that his country is now ready to cooperate.

Ambassador ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan's Ambassador to the United Nations): We are fully prepared to play our part regarding the peace process. We will be committed. We will be faithful and honest to our obligations. However, the international community also should be very careful not to send mixed signals to the rebel.

QUIST-ARCTON: As you hear there, Sudan is saying, yes, we will cooperate, but. And that's it. There's always this rider from Sudan. So people are waiting to see whether they are actually going to stick to their word this time. Already, the U.N. Security Council decision had to be watered down the resolution because it looks as if China may veto it if the forces - the U.N. and the AU forces - will give them too strong a mandate. But they can protect themselves. They can protect civilians.

But the warnings aren't just coming from Sudan. Listen to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad. He said that if the Khartoum government does not meet its obligations, then there could always be the threat of more sanctions against Sudan.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): We call in particular our President Bashir to provide maximum cooperation with the deployment of the new peacekeeping force. We hope his acceptance of the force marks a new chapter in his cooperation with the international community. If Sudan does not comply with the Darfur agreement, and if Sudan does not comply with this resolution, the United States will move for the swift adoption of unilateral and multilateral measures.

CHIDEYA: So that was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and he was talking about sanctions. Are these U.N. sanctions? U.S. sanctions? Just explain what that is.

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, U.S. sanctions. It's the U.S. that has imposed targeted sanctions against - particularly government or pro-government people in Sudan but also people on the Darfur rebel side who they say have been obstacles to peace. So the threat of more sanctions against anyone who is seen as a hindrance to peace.

CHIDEYA: So when do we expect the new force to be deployed to Darfur?

QUIST-ARCTON: Starting in October. And apparently, they should be in place by the end of the year, beginning of 2008. But before that, Farai, there are lots of obstacles. Apart from the Sudanese government resisting, you also have the rebels who from just a couple of factions when the peace accord was signed last year, now have fractionalized into at least a dozen factions.

Now they have been meeting in Arusha, Tanzania under the (unintelligible) of the United Nations and the African Union. But one powerful rebel leader - Abdul Wahid Mohammed al-Nur - he's head of the original faction of the Sudan Liberation Army - says he wants peace first on the ground in Darfur so he boycotted these talks.

Mr. ABDUL WAHID MOHAMMED AL-NUR (Rebel Leader, Sudan Liberation Army): Everywhere, there is killing. There is dying. A hundred of people are dying and killing by Khartoum government and they get going. I would like that the national community to stop killing of my people first, then we can negotiate in a good place without a pre-condition.

CHIDEYA: So what was the outcome of the Darfur rebel negotiations in Tanzania?

QUIST-ARCTON: Generally positive. The mediators, the United Nations and the African Union, they were sounding actually pretty pleased. And they feel that agreement among the Darfur rebels is a firm footing with which to start renegotiating with the Sudanese government.

The African Union special envoy, Salim Ahmed Salim, said he felt that it was a real commitment from the rebel factions.

Mr. SALIM AHMED SALIM (Special Envoy, African Union): Throughout this consultation, they have reaffirmed their desire for unity, their desire to contribute to our forces. And I think also you have to bear in mind that the presence of a field commanders here is also very significant. And the field commanders did not come in a partisan manner, the field commanders have emphasized to us that what they need to see or (unintelligible) to see a unified position of the movement.

CHIDEYA: Darfur is making headlines. There's a couple of documentaries coming out. And there's also some action from a Hollywood figure?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. Mia Farrow who is a U.N. ambassador who has been going to Darfur and has become very outspoken about the conflict in the whole region in Chad and Central Afghan Republic. Now she says she'll give up her freedom in exchange for a respected rebel figure in Darfur. He is called Suleiman Jamous and he's been coordinating between one main rebel faction, and especially the humanitarian workers. And they say he's a vital element.

But the government has said he can't leave Darfur, although apparently he needs surgery. So Mia Farrow is now saying, okay, I'll trade places with him, but he's got to have his surgery.

CHIDEYA: What other kinds of positions has Mia Farrow taken regarding this human rights issue?

QUIST-ARCTON: Probably most spectacularly, she says that the Chinese - China, which is hosting the Beijing Olympics next year, should be boycotted because the Chinese are supporting the Sudanese government. And, of course, the trouble is between Sudanese-backed government forces and Janjaweed militia against the rebel factions in Darfur. And she says that Steve Spielberg, he's going to be part of the Beijing Olympics, shouldn't be doing it. So Mia Farrow is actually being really outspoken about what's going on in Darfur.

CHIDEYA: Well, let's change gears. You indicate that there's been a sort of a homecoming where you're based in Senegal. What does that mean?

QUIST-ARCTON: A homecoming because it's - all these Senegalese professionals, many of them based in universities and other top jobs in the U.S. coming home saying, let's see what, collectively, we can do for Senegal. And they say that they're so many of them in the U.S., but somehow they never really get together because they're spread out in different states and all over. So they came home here to Dakar for a three-day meeting to talk about how they feel that they can help the continent. Have a listen.

Professor MARIANNE LORE(ph) (State University of New York, Buffalo): My name is Marianne Lore and I'm Senegalese. I teach at the State University of New York, SUNY in Buffalo. But I've never been cut away from the continent of Senegal. And in fact, I'm definitely working toward that goal of relocating myself in West Africa or Africa and contributing.

Being a member of the organizing committee - what motivated me was we are also dispersed with our individual experiences. And I felt that creating a platform where we can all get together to talk about our various experiences, to talk about the resources that we constitute for the development of Senegal or Africa, I think, was a very important commitment.

CHIDEYA: And while the Senegalese are heading home, let's meet someone moving far from home. Lucy, heading to the U.S., famous fossil, oldest humanoid skeleton ever found from Ethiopia. So tell us about Lucy's travels.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, a very controversial journey for a tour of American Museum. We understand, for example, that the Smithsonian will not accept to host Lucy because they say that she should be left alone. She's much too old to be traveling. Her bones are too fragile. But the Ethiopian government wants to see a bit more tourism, a bit more about this cradle of human kind that Ethiopia is meant to be. So Lucy is going, apparently, to New York, to Denver, to Chicago, and people can see this oldest woman in the world. She's only about three-foot-five. She looks like a child in bones.

CHIDEYA: Ofeibea, thank you again.

QUIST-ARCTON: And thank you.

CHIDEYA: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. She joined us from Dakar, Senegal.

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