U.S. must keep pushing for peace in Darfur

July 19, 2006|By KENNETH H. BACON

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- As rebel leaders sit at the Green Village Hotel in Khartoum, the prospect of peace in the Darfur region of Sudan suddenly becomes tangible. Looking slightly uncomfortable in suits and ties, they are discussing development plans for Darfur and a scheduled meeting between their leader, Minni Minnawi, and President Bush.

But reports from Darfur give a different impression. In the large camps housing many of the 2.2 million people displaced by the civil war, violence has increased since the May 5 signing of the Darfur peace agreement. The number of people the World Food Program can't reach because of lack of security jumped to 350,000 in June from an average of 150,000 in April and May. Looting, fighting among tribes and attacks against relief workers and African Union peacekeepers all have increased.

U.N. officials say that Mr. Minnawi's rebels and Sudanese government troops, the two signatories to the peace agreement, are coordinating attacks against forces led by the two leaders who refused to sign. Mr. Bush has accused Sudan's military regime of genocide in Darfur. If the U.N. information is correct, he faces a meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, with a man whose troops are operating with a government he has accused of genocide.

According to AU peacekeepers, there has been a recent surge in displaced people reporting extensive rapes and suspected executions of rival Fur tribe members by Mr. Minnawi's forces. Mr. Minnawi's spokesman has denied the charges, and Mr. Minnawi has denied that he is attacking in collaboration with government forces. Still, "there is a significant risk that the Darfur peace agreement will collapse," says Jan Pronk, the U.N.'s top official in Sudan.

There are several steps the Bush administration can take to move toward peace in Darfur. It must first address the security vacuum. The majority of the displaced people in Darfur's huge camps have rejected the peace agreement because they see no sign that the government will follow through on its pledge to disarm the government-backed militia responsible for most of the attacks. Nor do they trust the small AU peacekeeping force that has tried and often failed to protect civilians.

In his meeting with Mr. Minnawi, Mr. Bush must make it clear that the peace agreement is an opportunity to bring peace to all of Darfur, not merely to consolidate the rebel leader's position. The U.S. and its allies also need to strengthen the peacekeeping force in Darfur by replacing the 7,000-person AU force with a larger, more capable U.N. force.

Both the AU and the United Nations want to turn over the peacekeeping operation in Darfur to a much larger U.N. force next year, but Sudan is refusing. Yesterday, U.S., European and AU officials met with Sudan's foreign minister in Brussels to break down Sudan's resistance to the augmentation. Western officials said they made some progress but no deal is in sight. At the meeting, the U.S. and Europe also pledged more funds to keep the AU going until a transition can take place. Sudan may ultimately allow a U.N. force if Khartoum succeeds in winning a weak mandate for the force, but right now talks are deadlocked.

One way to break the stalemate could be for Washington to work with China. Sudan's biggest trading partner, China has a clear interest in making Sudan more stable and secure.

The U.N. needs to provide more than peacekeepers; it must also help the AU to implement the Darfur peace agreement. After helping to negotiate the agreement, the African Union gave itself the responsibility for implementing it, but so far it and other parties have missed every deadline.

This partly reflects a problem that only Mr. Bush can solve; the U.S. currently lacks the structure to help make the peace agreement succeed. President Bush needs to strengthen his team, starting with the appointment of a special envoy for Sudan who will report directly to him on the progress toward peace. It was just such a special envoy - former Sen. John C. Danforth - who helped broker a peace agreement signed last year between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, ending a 21-year civil war. The president of the Government of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, is to meet with Mr. Bush tomorrow.

Darfur is the first genocide of the 21st century. It probably won't be the last, but it is one that Mr. Bush is committed to ending. The president has to keep the pressure on.

Kenneth H. Bacon, the president of Refugees International, is in Sudan to survey the implementation of the Darfur peace agreement. His e-mail is ken@refugeesinternational.org.

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