KHARTOUM, Sudan, April 14 -- Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick pressed the Sudanese government Thursday to take specific steps that would show it is cooperating to halt violence in the western region of Darfur, including allowing NATO or the U.S. military to assist in a rapid expansion of an African-led monitoring force there.
Zoellick said Sudanese officials gave encouraging answers -- as they have frequently during a two-year crisis that has driven about 2 million people from their homes -- but he said he was looking for immediate results. "The responses that I've been given are good responses," Zoellick said, "but this has been a problem that left tens of thousands of people dying, so we have to solve the problem."
Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, right, Sudan's first vice president, receives Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick in Khartoum, the capital.
(Abd Raouf -- AP)
_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Photos: Continuing Crisis
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
$4.5 Billion in Aid Pledged For Postwar Efforts in Sudan (The Washington Post, Apr 13, 2005)
U.S. Official Ties Sudan Aid to Darfur (The Washington Post, Apr 12, 2005)
In Exploring a Solution for Darfur, Sudan Opts for Local Justice (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
U.N. Council's Resolution on Atrocities in Sudan Is Passed (The Washington Post, Apr 1, 2005)
New U.N. Darfur Sanctions Passed (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2005)
The conflict in Darfur broke out in early 2003 when two largely black African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts to protest what they called discrimination by Sudan's mostly Arab leaders. The United Nations and human rights groups have accused the government of arming and supporting militiamen, called the Janjaweed, to crush the rebellion, and of bombing villages where rebels and their supporters were said to be hiding.
Estimates of the death toll in the Darfur conflict vary widely. The United Nations has calculated that as many as 70,000 displaced Darfuris died from March to October 2004. Some outside analysts suggest that more than 400,000 have been killed or have perished from disease or malnutrition since the violence began.
Zoellick said the State Department estimated the dead at between 60,000 and 160,000. "There are numbers that are higher, and what I would emphasize in this is that nobody knows for sure," he said.
Zoellick's trip here represents the administration's most sustained high-level engagement on the issue since Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, demanded during a brief visit last June that Sudanese officials "act now" to stop the militia attacks. The population of homeless people then living in squalid camps totaled 1.2 million.
This week Zoellick attended an international conference in Oslo that secured $4.5 billion in pledges to assist the government in Khartoum and rebels in southern Sudan in implementing a peace accord that ended two decades of civil war in the south, a conflict unrelated to the one in Darfur. On Friday, he will travel to both southern Sudan and Darfur, where he will visit one of the camps housing victims of the violence.
Zoellick has backed up his push with suggestions that as much as $2 billion in promised U.S. aid to help implement the southern peace accord would be imperiled if the government did not address the Darfur crisis. The threat was also designed to persuade John Garang, the southern rebel leader who will be given a leading role in a new government, to get involved in Darfur or risk losing the aid money for the south.
Adding to the pressure, the U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution authorizing the International Criminal Court to prosecute Sudanese for atrocities committed in Darfur. The combination of factors has convinced U.S. officials that the time is favorable for a shift in Sudan's behavior, particularly because the north-south accord combines the lure of aid money with a framework for avoiding the breakup of Sudan along regional and ethnic lines.
With the government frequently maintaining that it is the victim of events beyond its control, Zoellick said he suggested that Sudan demonstrate its sincerity by focusing on steps officials could control, such as quickly issuing visas to aid workers, facilitating the expansion of the monitoring force established by the African Union and investigating violent incidents with greater speed. Nearly 2,300 African Union soldiers currently patrol an area in Sudan the size of France, and later this year the group is expected to approve an increase in the force to 7,700.
Zoellick is exploring whether a small force from NATO, Europe or the United States could provide logistical support to help expand the African Union contingent. The Sudanese government has resented the troop presence, but U.S. officials maintain that the soldiers have helped calm areas where they have been deployed.
Zoellick said he told Sudanese officials that if they could not adequately police Darfur, they should welcome the introduction of forces to maintain order. "It's Sudan's country," Zoellick said at a news conference. "Countries are held responsible for actions in their territory."
Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, told reporters before meeting Zoellick that the government was "working diligently to stop the violence" and "get Darfur back to normalcy." And during a lengthy session with Zoellick, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail gave him a handwritten action plan on Darfur and returning people to their lands.
Taha has made similar remarks before, and during Powell's visit 10 months ago, Ismail announced that Sudan and the United States had agreed on an action plan on Darfur.