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Diplomats Face New Deadline on Darfur

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As an African Union peacekeeping force in the Darfur region faces a Sept. 30 pullout date, the international diplomatic community has decisions to make about Sudan. Susan Rice, an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Clinton, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, sizes up the situation.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Three years after rebel forces from Sudan's Darfur region attacked government targets, the government is still fighting back. Hundreds of thousands of African civilians have either been killed or have died from hunger. More than two million have been displaced. But the threat isn't just from the government-backed Arab militia. Now rebel groups, fractured over a peace deal with Sudan that only one group signed, are also attacking the villagers.

The increasing violence is forcing aid workers to leave the region, and on September 30th the mandate for the under-funded, under-manned and poorly equipped African Union peacekeeping forces expires.

With us to discuss the situation in Darfur is Susan Rice, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration.

Welcome to the program, Susan.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Good to be with you, Liane.

HANSEN: Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has ordered the African Union peacekeepers to leave the country. Then he plans to send some 10,000 troops into Darfur to replace them. Is this a way to resolve the deteriorating situation in Darfur?

Ms. RICE: Absolutely not. What it is, is an opportunity for the people who have perpetrated genocide, the government of Sudan, to clear out all witnesses and send in government forces to continue the genocide, a second wave of the genocide, with the international community, I'm afraid, poised to stand by and watch.

HANSEN: Well, the United States formally declared the situation in Darfur genocide in September 2004. And less than a month ago, the United Nations approved a resolution to provide additional support to the African Union force. It called also for thousands of U.N. peacekeepers to be deployed in Darfur. So what's keeping the international community from acting on this?

Ms. RICE: The government of Sudan. The U.N. did pass a resolution. It did not require the consent of the Sudanese government, but the position that the United States and European governments and in fact the international community has taken is that that force cannot deploy without the consent of the Sudanese government. That is incredibly ironic. It is an - it is like giving Milosevic or Hitler a veto over the world stopping the perpetration of genocide.

HANSEN: During President Bush's press conference Friday, he actually had a comment on the United Nations waiting for government approval. Let's just hear what he had to say.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'd like to see more robust United Nations action. That what you'll hear is, well, the government of Sudan must invite the United Nations in for us to act. Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a resolution saying we're coming in with a U.N. force in order to save lives.

HANSEN: So Susan Rice, at what point should the United Nations actually abandon its efforts to get permission and move into the region?

Ms. RICE: If we decided - we the United States - as we did in the case of Kosovo, that we're not going to stand by, that we're going to act, then action would happen. It's past time that the United States, with or without the consent of the United Nations, says to the government of Sudan, there will be military consequences to bear unless and until you relent and allow the United Nations force to come in and protect civilians.

HANSEN: So the idea of military action, what exactly would that accomplish? Where would the troops come from?

Ms. RICE: Well, there's two things. It may be targeted air strikes at Sudanese airfields to knock out its airplanes, which have been very much involved in killing of civilians. The threat or the actual action might be sufficient to persuade the Sudanese to accept a U.N. force. That can happen from the air. The second phase is the U.N. forces on the ground to actually protect civilians, and that would be the actual implementation of the U.N. resolution that was passed.

The problem is, unfortunately, that this has occurred at the same time as we're trying to ramp up a new large force for Lebanon. And so we do have issues of capacity globally for peacekeeping.

HANSEN: So what about the idea of sanctions? Can they have any effect on the Khartoum government?

Ms. RICE: Sanctions could have effect but we don't have time for them to take effect. We have been talking and considering sanctions in the Security Council for going on two years now. Nothing significant has happened. Right now I think the government of Sudan is betting that the United States is distracted by Iraq, by Afghanistan, by many other issues on our plate.

They're betting on the fact that we can't get our act together and have sufficient resolve two months before a mid-term election. And they're betting on the fact that their friends, the Chinese and the Russians, in the Security Council will protect them, and that even if we wanted to act, we wouldn't act in the current context without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

We did act many years ago when we faced a similar, albeit not even as grave situation, in Kosovo. We acted without the U.N. Security Council, even though it would have been our strong preference to act with the Security Council. We acted with NATO to save lives in Kosovo. We didn't accept Milosevic vetoing international action. We used a language that Milosevic understood, which was force - air strikes. We never put a single NATO soldier on the ground, but Milosevic got the message and a U.N. force went in.

HANSEN: Susan Rice is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Susan, thank you very much for your time.

Ms. RICE: Thank you.

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