U.S. Weighs Moves Against Sudan Over U.N. Force

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

The United States is considering a series of punitive steps if the Sudanese government fails to agree to a U.N. peacekeeping force to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region, U.S. officials said yesterday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signaled the new approach in a speech yesterday in which she demanded an immediate cease-fire and warned that Khartoum faces "a choice between cooperation and confrontation."

U.S. officials said the options under consideration include reimposing sanctions that had been eased when Sudan signed a peace agreement last year with southern rebels, as well as taking action against top Sudanese officials who have been implicated in what the United States has labeled acts of genocide in Darfur.

Another option that has received renewed consideration is establishing a "no-fly zone" over Darfur, mainly because the Sudanese military has restarted attacks. But there are practical obstacles to a no-fly zone, including the effect it may have on humanitarian missions, so officials said that decision is not imminent.

Although Rice's Washington speech to the African Society's National Summit on Africa held out the prospect of improved ties between the two countries, relations have worsened dramatically in recent weeks.

U.S. officials detained Sudan's deputy foreign minister at Dulles International Airport for several hours last week and also restricted the travel of Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and his entourage when he came to address the U.N. General Assembly. Bashir was so angry that when he returned to Khartoum, he announced restrictions on the travel of U.S. diplomatic personnel and official U.S. visitors.

U.S. officials suggest that the visa restrictions imposed on Bashir were a mistake, generated mainly because he got the visa on a Sunday afternoon in Havana, where the U.S. routinely issues restricted visas to Cuban diplomats. "There was no policy decision to restrict them," a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "I think they simply didn't reset the machines for non-Cubans."

A senior Sudanese diplomat scoffed at that explanation. "Such mistakes are becoming very common for our American friends," the diplomat said. He confirmed that deputy foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti had been detained for several hours and that Bashir was upset at the restricted visas. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said U.S. diplomatic movements were being restricted because "reciprocity is one of the golden principles of diplomacy."

U.S. officials are still trying to figure out the practical aspects of Sudan's restrictions, including whether they will apply to diplomats or official visitors.

U.S. officials gave varied explanations for Karti's detention, which included that he was carrying cash in excess of $10,000 to finance Bashir's travels and that he turned up on a Homeland Security watch list because of his association with the Janjaweed, the marauding militias implicated in the Darfur violence.

Human rights groups say that Karti, though he now holds the title of state minister for foreign affairs, was the head of the Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary group that fought alongside the Janjaweed during a campaign of terrorism that has resulted in as many as 450,000 deaths and has driven more than 2 million from their homes. Some experts have said they think he is on the secret list of 51 names referred by the United Nations to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution for war crimes.

The Darfur conflict broke out in early 2003 when African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts. The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the central government of supporting the Janjaweed in an effort to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed across Darfur, an area the size of France.

The Bush administration has pressed to replace an undermanned, 7,000-person peacekeeping force headed by the African Union with 20,000 U.N. troops, but Sudan has refused to accept a Security Council resolution mandating the force.

In May, under the leadership of then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, the U.S. persuaded Khartoum and one rebel group to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement. But Zoellick left the administration, along with many of his Sudan advisers, and U.S. policy was adrift over the summer. Last week, President Bush named former USAID administer Andrew S. Natsios as special presidential envoy to Sudan.

Human rights groups have criticized the Darfur agreement, saying that it did not have the support of a rebel group representing the majority of the Darfur population and that the Sudanese government has used it as an excuse to attack rebel groups that did not sign.

Rice demanded yesterday that Khartoum accept the U.N. force. While the Darfur agreement will not be negotiated, she said, "we are conferring with rebels who want peace."

Rice added: "We are seeking to address their legitimate concerns, and we will support them if they choose peace. If the rebels refuse, then they will face serious consequences, including targeted U.N. sanctions."

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