By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Bush administration yesterday strongly defended U.S. efforts to stop the killing in Darfur, announcing new plans to airlift equipment to the strife-torn region of Sudan and arguing that President Bush has been a leader in attempting to end the violence there.
The new edict will allow the State Department to deliver 240 containers of heavy equipment into Darfur to aid United Nations peacekeepers there, officials said. The Defense Department will also transport equipment from Rwanda into the region.
Bush, who met in the Oval Office yesterday with Sudan's first vice president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, also said he "was still going to care about Sudan" after he leaves office Jan. 20.
"It's going to be very important for the United States to pay attention to the implementation of this agreement," Bush said, referring to a 2005 accord between northern and southern Sudan that is separate from the crisis in Darfur. Kiir also is president of semiautonomous southern Sudan.
The remarks come amid continuing violence in Darfur, which has been paralyzed by fighting since ethnic African rebels took up arms in early 2003 against the Arab-dominated central government in Khartoum. Sudan responded by organizing local militia leaders and launching a campaign that the Bush administration has labeled genocide. As many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence, and 2.7 million have fled their homes in the conflict.
President-elect Barack Obama focused heavily on the Darfur crisis during his presidential campaign, criticizing Bush for not doing enough and vowing to make ending the killings a major priority of his administration. Obama also vowed to increase pressure on China, a major supporter of the Khartoum government.
Bush and his aides have bristled at such criticism and defended their efforts to broker a peace deal between the warring factions in Darfur. In an unusually forceful statement yesterday, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley singled out a newspaper columnist for criticism and said the new airlift plans illustrate the Bush administration's commitment to ending bloodshed in Darfur.
"President Bush has been committed to resolving the crisis there since the United States first labeled it genocide in 2004," Hadley said. "Even prior to the Darfur crisis, the President showed his commitment to the cause of peace in Sudan by pressing for a historic peace agreement between the North and South that ended the country's 22-year civil war which took more than two million lives."
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, said Bush deserves credit for the earlier peace agreement, but said the administration has clearly fallen short in resolving the Darfur crisis.
"I think the president has had a sincere personal commitment to ending the genocide in Darfur, and in many ways has done more than other countries, but the bottom line is that it's still going on," Fowler said.