U.S. Sets Jan. 1 Deadline for Sudan to Act on Darfur

By Glenn Kessler and Nora Boustany
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Andrew Natsios, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, said yesterday that the Bush administration will resort to an unspecified "Plan B" if the Sudanese government does not agree by Jan. 1 to complete negotiations on an expanded international peacekeeping force for its troubled Darfur region.

Khartoum has adamantly rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a U.N.-led force, so the Bush administration and the United Nations have backtracked and instead sought to win the government's agreement for a hybrid force of African Union and U.N. troops. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced last week that Sudan had agreed in principle to such a joint force but that numerous issues must be resolved before Khartoum gives final approval.

The Sudanese government claimed yesterday that the tentative agreement was a "diplomatic victory," but the official news agency, SUNA, minimized the role of the United Nations, saying only that the world body would provide "assistance." The agency said the government objects to the overall size of the force and has questions about the appointment of the force commander.

The AU currently has 7,000 ill-equipped troops in Darfur, an area the size of France, and the U.N. resolution passed in August calls for as many as 22,500 military and police personnel. The agreement announced by Annan would allow for as many as 17,000 troops and 3,000 police.

Natsios, speaking to reporters, declined several times to explain what he meant by "Plan B," saying he was not trying to make a threat. "On January 1st, either we see a change or we go to Plan B," Natsios said, explaining that on that day the AU's mandate will expire and Annan will step down as secretary general. He also noted that Congress will shift from Republican to Democratic control in January.

The United States has repeatedly dangled incentives to Sudan if it helps end the violence in Darfur. "Plan B is a different approach to this," Natsios said, adding that it is "open-ended."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned in September that Khartoum faces "a choice between cooperation and confrontation." U.S. officials have said that, besides new sanctions, the United States could take action against top Sudanese officials who have been implicated in what the United States has labeled acts of genocide in Darfur or could establish a "no-fly zone" to thwart Sudanese military attacks against the civilian population.

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 a militia known as the Janjaweed in an effort to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed across Darfur, as many as 450,000 people have died, and more than 2 million people have been left homeless since the crisis began.

Natsios rejected Khartoum's claims that a U.N.-led international force would mean a return to colonialism. "We have a humanitarian and human rights agenda in Darfur, and that's it," he said. "We want this resolved because the human cost of this has been so horrific."

Earlier, at a meeting at the Brookings Institution, Natsios was confronted by an official from the Sudanese Embassy who said that Sudan has "every single right to be suspicious about these things because of broken promises of the U.S. government and the international community over there."

Natsios responded: "We have suspicions, too. We suspect there are people in the regime who believe a military solution is necessary." He noted that three times in the past three weeks, unarmed civilians have been brutally attacked, and he cited one incident that left 200 dead, mostly women and children.

"If a pattern develops, then a more confrontational approach will take place," Natsios said. "The United States will not accept any of this other process if it is simply a disguised attempt to avoid dealing with the reality of what is happening to people on the ground."

Many analysts believe that Khartoum has become emboldened to resist international pressure because of its increasing oil wealth. China, which holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council, is a major investor in Sudan's petroleum industry.

But during the Brookings meeting, both Natsios and Jean-Marie Guéhenno, U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping, said the Chinese representatives at the talks last week, held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, had signaled that their country was taking a more constructive approach.

Guéhenno cautioned that the stability from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel band to the west to Niger is at risk if the Darfur crisis begins to spill across borders.

"There is a lot at stake," he said. "There is the local-national dimension of nomads versus agriculturalists, of Arabs versus Africans. When all these tensions become part of the narrative, it will be very dangerous."

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