Report: Sudanese Planes Strike Under U.N. Guise

A United Nations report, first published in the New York Times, details the use of Sudanese government planes and helicopters in strikes on Darfur. The aircraft have been painted to look like U.N. vehicles and are being used for bombing runs and surveillance. Khartoum-based reporter Noel King speaks with Alex Chadwick.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

There's tough talk from both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Darfur and the ongoing human crisis there. Both the U.S. and British governments threatened the Sudanese government with sanctions yesterday. And on that same day, a leaked U.N. report said that the Sudanese government has been flying weapons into Darfur on aircraft disguised with U.N. paint and logos.

The U.S. has sent a top diplomat to the region, John Negroponte. But is that going to do any good? Does the Sudanese government care? Noel King is a reporter based in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Noel, welcome. And now there is the prospect of tougher sanctions from the U.N. The U.S. government is strongly behind them. What kind of impact would that have on the thinking of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir?

NOEL KING: Well, the most recent prospects of U.N. sanctions - some people, some observers have said, have convinced Bashir to accept this second phase of U.N. support, which is going to involve an additional 3,000 peacekeepers, some heavy equipment, like attack helicopters. But skeptics, and there are many, say that Bashir is only buying time to hold off those U.S. and U.K. sanctions. And in the meantime, it will take months before those U.N. troops, U.N. peacekeepers, are actually on the ground.

So it's given Sudan - the threat of sanctions may have changed Sudan's mind in some sense. But again, many people are skeptical that this is anything more than a ploy for time.

CHADWICK: The issue of actual U.N. peacekeepers has been such a hard point to try to get through with President Bashir. Is he actually saying, okay, I agree to this, but next week or next month or three months from now?

KING: You know, honestly, I think many people are at a point where they realize it doesn't really matter what Omar al-Bashir says. Omar al-Bashir has said so many things about the acceptance of U.N. peacekeepers since November and then a week later has held a press conference to say, no, actually, in fact, we're not going to let them in. There is so much confusion regarding what he is actually agreeing to, because there have been so many agreeances(ph) in the past five months and then a week later, again, he will turn around 180 degrees and say, no, I've changed my mind. We don't want this.

CHADWICK: When you say that Omar al-Bashir is playing for time, what kind of time? What would this do for him? How are things going to get better?

KING: Cynical observers believe that he's not buying time in which things will get better. He's buying time in the hopes that things will get worse. Some people have called this war by attrition or genocide by attrition, in which the longer these people, the displaced in Darfur - and there are now 2.5 million -remain in camps for the displaced, the more they are susceptible to disease, the more they are susceptible to hunger, and to, again, to marauders, to attackers.

People believe that Omar al-Bashir is not buying time to make things better. He's buying time so that the population in Darfur will die off to some extent. If this continues on for another year, and if the U.N. and other agencies estimate that thousands of people are dying every month - I mean, it's simple enough math to understand that there will be a much higher death toll if it takes U.N. peacekeepers a year to get in there than if it takes them three or four months.

CHADWICK: Noel King, a reporter based in Khartoum, Sudan. Noel, thank you.

KING: Thank you.

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