Darfur Rebel Leader Looks for Help in Washington

The only rebel leader to have signed a peace deal on Darfur is in Washington. Minni Minnawi wants to see the U.S. persuade Sudan — which Washington accuses of genocide — to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur. Some analysts say that the peace deal has only led to more fighting — this time among rebel factions.

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DON GONYEA, host:

President Bush carved out time in his schedule this week to talk about the ongoing conflict in Darfur, Sudan. That's a conflict his government has described as a genocide. Mr. Bush met at the White House with the only rebel leader to have signed a peace deal with the government of Sudan. Some Sudan watchers say the situation in Darfur is becoming more complicated with troops from neighboring Chad involved and rebels fighting among each other.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

In his hotel room not far from the White House, 37-year-old Minni Arcua Minnawi sits wearing his dark sunglasses, talking about his efforts to transform himself into a politician. He says he's just learning.

Mr. MINNI ARCUA MINNAWI (Leader, Sudan Liberation Army): I am soldier, except I am politician.

KELEMEN: It's been just a couple of months since Minnawi signed a peace deal under pressure from the U.S. and the United Nations. Now he wants the international community to do more to enforce it.

Mr. MINNAWI: This peace agreement should be protected by the international community not protected by me alone, because this was the peace of the international community.

KELEMEN: Darfur rebels initially took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003, and Sudan responded in what the U.S. described as a genocidal counterinsurgency campaign. Now, the picture is even more complicated.

Kenneth Bacon, of Refugees International, says since the peace deal was signed in May, fighting among rebel groups has intensified. Speaking from Sudan, Bacon accused Minnawi's fighters of being the main threat.

Mr. KENNETH BACON (President, Refugees International): He is violating this agreement that he signed, and that he is largely responsible, at least his commanders are, for a fairly dramatic increase in violence and displacement.

KELEMEN: Bacon says civilians fleeing the violence told him that they were being attacked by members of Minnawi's tribe seeking to increase their power in the region. Minnawi calls this propaganda from his enemies.

Mr. MINNAWI: No, no, no, it is not true. It is not true. And my troop will not attack the civilian at all, because they are the only forces which were protecting the civilian for past four(ph) years ago.

KELEMEN: He says the problem is that neighboring Chad has sent troops, weapons and financial support across the border to back one of the rebel groups that didn't sign the peace deal, a group that is now fighting his faction.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, also expressed concern this week that Sudan's conflict with Chad is being played out in Darfur now.

Dr. JENDAYI FRAZER (United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa): And that's unacceptable. Right now, Chad is in a position in which it's undermining the Darfur Peace Agreement by supporting the non signatories militarily and materially. And those forces are then attacking Minni Minnawi.

KELEMEN: As the security situation becomes more complex, the prospects look slim for a quick decision on a United Nations force for Darfur. The U.N. has been planning to take over from an under-funded and understaffed African Union force. But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, says the Sudanese government has been intransigent.

Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): They continue to say they will not accept a U.N. force in Darfur. That has ripple effects with potential troop-contributing countries that worry about the situation into which their troops would be deployed.

KELEMEN: And this is likely to complicate discussions in the U.N. Security Council, which has Senator Barack Obama worried. The Illinois Democrat told Bolton at a hearing yesterday, the U.S. can't just watch the situation deteriorate further with the Darfur Peace Agreement now in jeopardy.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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