China Steps Up Pressure on Sudan Over Darfur

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 13, 2008

BEIJING, June 12 -- President Hu Jintao strongly urged Sudan to cooperate in the swift deployment of international peacekeeping forces and to help end humanitarian abuses in the country's embattled Darfur region, the official Communist Party newspaper said Thursday.

The Chinese leader, in a meeting with visiting Sudanese Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, used unusually frank language in calling on the Khartoum government to try harder to settle the conflict along Sudan's western border and "allow people there to reconstruct their homeland," according to the People's Daily.

"It is necessary to push forward the relevant parties to carry out a comprehensive cease-fire and constantly improve the humanitarian and security situation," Hu told Taha in their meeting Wednesday.

Hu added that the Sudanese government should do whatever it could to aid early deployment of a mixed U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force, UNAMID. The force, mandated by the U.N. Security Council and accepted by Sudan a year ago after long hesitation, was supposed to field 26,000 soldiers and police in 2008 but so far has less than half that number on the ground.

Hu's comments and their prominent publication in the official daily are part of an increasingly open Chinese diplomatic campaign to persuade Sudanese leaders to cooperate more with international efforts to end the fighting in Darfur.

Foreign aid specialists say the conflict has contributed to the deaths of up to 450,000 people from violence and disease and driven 2.5 million from their homes since Darfur's black African population rebelled against the Arab-run government in Khartoum in 2003.

China has come under criticism from human rights activists for failing to pressure Khartoum forcefully enough to accept the peacekeeping force and to organize negotiations aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict. As a major buyer of Sudan's oil and a partner in its infrastructure projects, China has been cited as one of the few countries with sufficient influence to affect the situation.

Some U.S. and European activists have suggested that China's lack of forcefulness is grounds for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games this summer.

As the number of complaints rose last year, Hu's government named a special Darfur envoy and began making increasingly public statements urging greater cooperation by the Sudanese. Still, the official portrayal of Wednesday's meeting was seen as a departure from China's usual style of quiet diplomacy and ritual proclamations of friendship.

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