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Thursday, November 23, 2006


U.S. moves to 'Plan B' on Sudan conflict

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States may move to "Plan B" if the Sudanese government cannot reach an agreement on allowing peacekeepers in the region by January 1, U.S. presidential envoy Andrew Natsios said.

What exactly "Plan B" entails is unclear, however.

"We need to put a time limit on where this is going," Natsios said Monday, declining to specify consequences for Sudan if the deadline is not met.

"Making threats is not a wise thing to do," he added.

After years of low-level clashes over water and land in the vast, arid Darfur region, rebels from ethnic African tribes took up arms against Sudan's Arab-dominated central government in 2003.

Khartoum is accused of unleashing the janjaweed pro-government militia force in return. The militiamen are accused of atrocities in a conflict that has killed some 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million from their homes.

The mandate for the 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping troops in Darfur expires January 1.

Natsios noted that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has made peace in Darfur a top priority, is stepping down on the same day.

Optimism about a final settlement and approval to send in troops has risen somewhat since the Sudanese government joined with the United Nations and the African Union in a framework agreement last Thursday at a meeting in Ethiopia. The agreement included some concessions by the Sudanese, including support for U.N. assistance proposals.

Although the Sudanese government agreed in principle last week to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the region as part of a joint peacekeeping mission with the African Union, they immediately began backpedaling.

There has been no final agreement on the proposed "hybrid" force of 20,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers and police officers.

But Natsios remains resolute, saying of the Sudanese, "You frequently will take two steps forward and one step back."

"Our goal here is to get the Sudanese government to negotiate an agreement that they will then carry out with the United Nations that will result in a force, a hybrid force, going to Darfur," Natsios said.

One issue not subject to negotiation is alleged Sudanese government participation in atrocities in Darfur, Natsios said.

"Human rights abuses are not negotiable," he said. "There is no compromise on that."

Susan Rice, a top Africa aide in former President Bill Clinton's administration, has assailed the U.N.-AU plan as a "colossal sellout."

"We have a fig leaf here that won't solve the problem," Rice said in comments last week. She added that it was unseemly for the international community to be "negotiating with the perpetrators of genocide."

Sudanese refusal to accept a "robust" international force should be met with a U.S.- and European-led bombing campaign against Sudanese airfields and other targets, Rice said.

Natsios said he was especially pleased by the "very helpful" role played by Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya in Ethiopia. Since the United Nations first became involved in the Darfur crisis in 2004, China has been widely seen as an advocate for the Sudanese government position on Darfur because of commercial ties.

Natsios, who attended the meeting in Ethiopia, also said Arab League delegates and Egyptian Foreign minister Abul Geit made positive contributions.

A former chief of the U.S. foreign aid program, Natsios has remained relatively silent about his Darfur duties since his appointment by President Bush in September.

On Monday, however, he was very much in the spotlight, appearing at a two-hour think tank forum in the morning, meeting with reporters in the afternoon and presiding at the official opening of an exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the evening.

The museum planned to project wall-sized images of what it described as the "escalating genocide."

Re-posted from CNN for when their link is no longer valid.
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