Momentum Builds in Darfur Peacekeeping Efforts
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
A United Nations envoy has just wrapped up a trip to Darfur, Sudan, saying he expects to launch a full-fledged peace process this fall. As momentum builds on the political front, the U.N. also is working on a peacekeeping force to protect millions of people displaced by the fighting.
NPR's Michele Kelemen has been following the story.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Jan Ellison is hesitant to say he's reached the breakthrough, but thus say there is some positive momentum to end a conflict that has raged for four years, a conflict that has become ever more complicated. He spoke to us by phone from Chad after his latest swing through the region, where he learned just how much Darfuris are depending on his negotiating skills.
Mr. JAN ELLISON (United Nations Special Envoy to Darfur): They just want to leave this nightmare behind them, you know. This is an enormously dangerous situation, 2.2 million people in the camps. You have tribal factions that are developing also. There are people taking over land who do not own those - that land. And one day, those who own this land will be back.
KELEMEN: The conflict began in 2003, when rebels rose up against the Sudanese government, and the government responded by arming militias that rampaged through villages. Ellison and his counterpart from the African Union have had to reach out to numerous actors, not only the government of Sudan and countries in the region, but all of the various rebel groups. He finally got many of them together this month to agree on a negotiating position for wealth and power sharing in Darfur. Ellison hopes to persuade more actors to join formal talks in September.
Mr. ELLISON: Even if the government of Sudan certainly does not accept ambitious agenda on the talks, they found it very important that they could see a negotiation partner emerge from our talks. And that is perhaps more than most people expected. And I hope we should build on this now because the alternatives are terrible.
KELEMEN: The U.N. envoy says in the camps, expectations are running high that the United Nations and African Union can quickly deploy a peacekeeping force to protect Darfuris. A week after the Security Council approved the force, the U.N. official, Jane Holl Lute, told reporters that troop war force are coming in though not yet the specialists she needs from rich nations.
Ms. JANE HOLL LUTE (U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations): We still are missing some pledges for key enabling capabilities in the area of movement, for example, in the area of aviation. But we are very pleased with the number of, for example, infantry battalions that have been pledged. We are hitting the target of a predominantly African force.
KELEMEN: That's what Sudan wanted. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda are among the countries making offers. Others include Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal and Thailand. Lute says the idea is to build on the African Union troops already there and put together a better-funded and more mobile force in the coming months.
Ms. LUTE: It is not static, interpositional, sort of, World War II vintage binoculars, looking out over vast expanses of terrain. This is a dynamic engagement of a force on the ground to achieve both the spirit in the letter of the mandate that's been provided.
KELEMEN: That is to protect civilians and aid workers. She dodged the question about whether Sudan can prevent non-African troops from taking part. The Bush administration's envoy Andrew Natsios warns Sudan it could face further sanctions if it throws up any further roadblocks to this joint U.N-African Union force. As for the U.S., Natsios says there is a reason why Washington won't send troops.
Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan): There's a fear that the purpose of all of these is to send American troops and to occupy parts of Sudan. And I think if we send troops and it would simply feed that fear, if we contributed troops. It's not going to happen. I don't see it happening. It would not be a good idea from the perspective of the peacekeeping force and it would not facilitate the political process, in fact, it would undermine it.
KELEMEN: Natsios said, the U.S. might consider helping with logistics and will pay it's usual 26 percent of the peacekeeping bill, a bill that U.N. officials expect to top $2 billion a year.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.