Sudan's Moves in Darfur Concern U.S. Envoy
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Nearly two years after Bush administration used the word genocide to describe the conflict in Darfur, the U.S. is renewing its push to get United Nations peacekeepers there. A State Department official in charge of this latest diplomatic push is raising alarms about what she calls Sudan's plans for a new military offensive.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
Despite a peace agreement signed in May, Darfur has been in a downward spiral. Armed groups have splintered and all sides are accused of attacking civilians and aid workers and even pressing children into combat. Sudan says it has a plan to quell this violence; that is, to send in more than 10,000 Sudanese troops. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, says the plan amounts to a new government offensive.
Ms. JENDAYI FRAZER (U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa): We're very, very, very concerned about this, the buildup of military forces. We think that every day that passes, more innocent men and women and children are suffering and that the way in which you stop that is to bring a multinational force to bear.
KELEMEN: That's the goal of her trip to Sudan, which begins today, to persuade the government, the same one that the U.S. accused of genocide, to accept a United Nations force. The idea is to have the U.N. take over from an under-funded and understaffed African union peacekeeping mission and to do so by October 1st. It would take many more months, though, Frazer said, to build up to the 17,000 peacekeepers that a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calls for. Sudan's acting ambassador to the U.N., Omar Monis(ph), has been pretty clear about where his country stands on this issue.
Mr. OMAR MONIS (Ambassador to the U.N.): The Sudan government is opposing to the sending of troops to Darfur and I cannot see how anybody can envision sending troops to a country which is not welcoming those troops.
KELEMEN: Sudan has complained that it hasn't been consulted enough on the U.N.'s plans, and it is now trying to hold up U.N. Security Council action. Assistant Secretary Frazer said U.N. troops won't fight their way into Darfur, so she says she's stepping U.S. lobbying efforts.
Ms. FRAZER: We believe that we have consulted them, but we will go the last mile to make sure that we have been able to directly talk to them about what the U.S. intentions are. This is, of course, coordinated with other international actors who are, I think, delivering a very similar message.
KELEMEN: Privately, some U.S. officials complain that China, which has business interests in Sudan, is also holding up Security Council action. Frazer says she's been talking with Chinese officials to get them on board and hopes the Security Council will pass a resolution next week to approve a U.N. force. This can't come fast enough for the U.N.'s top humanitarian aid official, Jan Egeland, who says the deteriorating security environment is threatening aid efforts.
Mr. JAN EGELAND (U.N. Official): The whole humanitarian operation, the largest operation on earth, is now more threatened than at any time since the whole thing started. We cannot continue this enormous incomplete plaster on an open wound. It has to be healed through a U.N. force and through a peace agreement that holds.
KELEMEN: He says he's running low on funds and the violence has forced some aid groups to scale back their work. At least nine aid workers have been killed in the past month in Darfur. Aid workers and U.N. officials have also reported a spike in rapes and attacks on women in and around displaced camps and say armed groups have been recruiting children, further fueling the conflict. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.