19 September 2006

Sudan: Bush Names Special Envoy for Darfur

United Nations — President Bush has named Andrew Natsios, former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as a presidential special envoy to lead U.S. efforts to bring peace to the Darfur region in Sudan.

In his speech at the opening of the 61st U.N. General Assembly, the president focused on Darfur, addressing his remarks directly to the people of the region. "You have suffered unspeakable violence, and my nation has called these atrocities what they are -- genocide," Bush said.

"The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid, and we must strengthen the African Union force that has done good work but is not strong enough to protect you," he said.

If the Sudanese government does not accept a transition from the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force to the larger, more robust U.N. peacekeeping operation in Darfur quickly, the president said, "the United Nations must act" because thousands of lives and the credibility of the United Nations are at stake.

The president also called on the international community "to step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid" and asked NATO to strengthen the AU force (AMIS) while it remains in Darfur.

With world leaders at U.N. headquarters for the assembly, diplomats see the week of September 18 as a critical one opportunity for focusing attention on Darfur and for convincing Sudanese officials to change their position on a U.N. peacekeeping force for the region.

The United States has submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would extend the mandate of the U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) for another six months.

UNMIS was established by the council in 2005 (Resolution 1590) to support the peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army to help with humanitarian aid and guard against human rights abuses. Resolution 1706, adopted by the council on August 31, 2006, expanded the mandate of UNMIS to include Darfur and instructed the U.N. secretary-general to speed up planning for an expanded force in the region.

The Security Council is planning to meet September 22 with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is opposing the deployment of the 20,000 peacekeepers and police units in Darfur under U.N. command.

"We deplore the ongoing violence in Darfur and the consequent deterioration of the humanitarian situation," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said September 18. "At this critical juncture, it is imperative that the Security Council reiterate the need for the transition of AMIS to a United Nations operation."

It is critical that the missions be expanded concurrently to ensure the urgent assistance to AMIS is not jeopardized, Bolton said.

Bolton said that just as Sudan's Government of National Unity was able to overcome decades of violence in southern Sudan by respecting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and cooperating with UNMIS, so should Khartoum be prepared to ensure a better future for its citizens in Darfur through the Darfur Peace Agreement and cooperation in the deployment of U.N. forces in Darfur.

"The notion that Sudan is not going to accept the presence of a U.N. peacekeeping force is something we don't find to be credible," Bolton said.

Peace activists held "Save Darfur" rallies around the world September 17 in an effort to highlight the desperate situation. "The world must act and it must do it now because time is not on our side," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told an estimated crowd of 30,000 in New York City's Central Park.

Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, and Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California -- members of the U.S. delegation to the General Assembly -- stressed that both major U.S. political parties are united on Darfur.

"Quite often we find ourselves on different sides on a number of issues, but on the issue of the importance of dealing with the genocide of Darfur we stand united. There is absolutely no question about it," Coleman said after meeting with Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations September 18.

"We need increased focus and attention to this issue. Resolution of these issues is often complex, there are nuances and layers, but the reality of this is genocide, is not complex. It's very clear ... it simply has to be done," Coleman said.

Boxer added that Americans and people around the world have shown great compassion by taking the time to rally, speak and raise funds. "To the very brave NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and U.N. personnel who are going in there, we can only say thank you for keeping this issue on the agenda of the world," she said.

Having lost many family members during the Holocaust, Boxer said, she knows that "shining the light of truth on these inhumane acts is the first step to stopping them."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has reported that, despite the May peace accord, the situation in Darfur has worsened steadily, with human rights abuses being committed on a large scale by government forces, the marauding Jingaweit militias and rebel groups.

The high commissioner told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that there is a "continued and clear failure or unwillingness" by the government to hold the perpetrators of horrific crimes accountable.

UNICEF says that more than 400,000 have lost their lives, some 2 million more have been driven from their homes in Darfur in the last three years and nearly 3 million depend on international aid for food, shelter and basic health needs.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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