Getting to the Bottom of the Darfur Dilemma
JACKI LYDEN, host: Later this week, the U.N. Security Council is expected to present options for a possible peace-keeping mission in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
The U.N. initiative comes as the government in Khartoum and rebel groups approach an April 30th deadline, the latest in a series of efforts to negotiate a peace deal.
For three years, violence between government-supported militias and armed rebels has driven more than one and a half million Sudanese from their homes.
Salih Booker is an executive director of Africa Action, an advocacy group here in Washington, and he joins us here in our studios.
Mr. SALIH BOOKER (Africa Action): Thanks for having me.
LYDEN: Well, give us an update, if you would, please, on the ongoing peace talks.
Mr. BOOKER: The peace talks between the government and the Darfur rebels continue in the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, but are unlikely, in my view, to reach any conclusion by the April 30th deadline.
The most important thing in this coming week is the Security Council's consideration of different kinds of options to transform the African peace mission into a United Nations full blue-helmeted peacekeeping operation.
LYDEN: Where do you expect that the troops would come from for this mission?
Mr. BOOKER: Well, there are a number of countries that have already indicated they would be willing to contribute troops. But big questions remain about whether NATO countries, or the United States in particular, might contribute troops.
But the key thing is the Security Council passing a resolution that would actually authorize such a force. The government of Sudan is still opposed to any such U.N. force. And the African Union is simply on the ground, but with an inadequate force and without a mandate to protect civilians.
LYDEN: Give us some context for this April 30th deadline. Negotiations have been going on for at least a couple of years now. What's special about this?
Mr. BOOKER: That's right. I think it's unfortunate that the negotiators have offered these kinds of deadlines because they've come and gone in the past and there haven't been any serious consequences for either the government or the rebels to pay.
But it is an effort to try and accelerate the process. There is an assumption that some kind of peace agreement, some political deal is needed to help facilitate the arrival of a U.N. peacekeeping operation.
The real problem, though, is the protection that's needed for the roughly three million people in Darfur who are displaced or affected by the violence and by the humanitarian crisis. And there you have the U.N. with a responsibility to protect. It may have to mount such a mission in the face of opposition from the government in Khartoum.
LYDEN: Now, what pressure can western countries apply, or can the U.N. leaders apply to Khartoum?
Mr. BOOKER: Well, I think the U.N. is raising the alarm that more funding is needed. But the Security Council still wants to see greater political pressure, and there's been a suggestion that a resolution imposing sanctions on some Sudanese government officials might be considered in the days ahead.
China and Russia have indicated they would oppose these kinds of targeted sanctions as not conducive to the peace process. But these kinds of political pressures have failed in the past, and again, the key question will be, will the Security Council authorize a force under Chapter 7 of its charter that allows intervention to protect civilians?
LYDEN: Just this past week Chinese President Hu Jintao met with President Bush here in Washington, and they talked about human rights in respective countries and the Darfur situation. But when it comes to taking a direct role, most of the involvement has been rhetorical. Do you see any change?
Mr. BOOKER: Sadly, I do not. The situation in Darfur is the first genocide of the 21st Century. The rhetoric indeed has improved, but the actions have not been forthcoming, to provide the physical protection that civilians need and deserve and should be able to call on the international community to provide.
LYDEN: Salih Booker is executive director of Africa Action.
Thank you very much for coming in.
Mr. BOOKER: Thank you for having me.