No End in Sight to Darfur Conflict

Diplomats are trying to funnel more peacekeepers into Sudan's Darfur region to protect civilians there. But the Sudanese government refuses to allow further intervention. In the meantime, the fighting is spilling into neighboring countries.

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We're nearing the end of 2006, which means the killing in Darfur has gone on for another year. In the last days of this year, the U.S. and the United Nations are trying one more time to change the situation in that region of western Sudan.

They still face resistance from Sudan's government, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Just back from his latest trip to the region, President Bush's special envoy said it was too dangerous to actually visit Darfur, but Andrew Natsios did get a lengthy meeting with Sudan's president, and says he made clear the time for quiet diplomacy is running out.

Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Special Envoy, Sudan): It's not useful to make threats because for four years now, since early 2003, the international community, everybody, is making threats to Sudan. And what's happened? Nothing. It hasn't changed their behavior and none of the threats have been carried out.

KELEMEN: Now the U.S. is making only oblique threats, warning it will have to move to Plan B if Sudan doesn't cooperate by the end of this year. It's not at all clear that there is a plan. Officials have only said they will just have to start dealing with Sudan differently.

Months ago Sudan agreed to let the U.N. help bolster an African Union force in Darfur with a group of advisors. Natsios now has this specific request for Sudan.

Mr. NATSIOS: That the 60 U.N. troops and civilians who are marooned in Khartoum right now, they're there now, and all the equipment that they've brought in with them, is moved into placed in Darfur by the end of the year.

KELEMEN: Natsios also wants to see Sudan put in writing exactly what it will accept in terms of outside peacekeepers. The U.N. thought it had a deal for a joint U.N./African union force. Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has spoken a lot about humanitarian interventions if countries won't or can't protect their own civilians.

Asked this week if Darfur should be the first test case, Annan said there is more to be done diplomatically.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (U.N. Secretary-General): Political pressure, economic sanctions, isolation, and of course in the last resort, the use of force. Have we brought to bare on this situation all the capacity we have to pressure the government to bend?

KELEMEN: He left reporters with that as an open question. President Bush's envoy said he did make some progress, persuading Sudan's government to ease bureaucratic obstacles for aid workers in Darfur. But that doesn't resolve the key issue: the violence that has made humanitarian work there nearly impossible.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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