Darfur Peace Conference

Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 29, 2007 11:00 AM

Washington Post foreign correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer was online Monday, Oct. 29 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss what was and was not accomplished at this weekend's U.N.-backed peace talks in Tripoli, Libya, which two key rebel groups are boycotting.

The transcript follows.

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Sun Prairie, Wis.: Good morning, Ms. Knickmeyer and thank you for taking this question. Actually, it's a two-parter: How would you characterize Arab media coverage and commentary of the Darfur crisis in the past few years? Also, is the reluctance of some rebel groups to participate in the conference in Libya in part because of their suspicion that Libya and other Arab governments only are interested in supporting the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum?

Ellen Knickmeyer: Hello. I'm sorry for starting late, but I'm still in Libya, and my movements for the time being are dependent on the kindly Libyan government officials serving as my eager guides.

On the question of how Arab media treats the issue of Darfur -- I have the impression that the interest for some is more in how the international community is responding to the Darfur crisis rather than in the Darfur crisis itself. I hear some Arab leaders, including Mr. Gaddafi this weekend, saying that Darfur is a tribal dispute and that the international community should butt out. President Mubarak in Egypt also goes with the tribal dispute viewpoint.

I don't know that other Arab governments only support the Khartoum viewpoint. Mr. Gaddafi, for example, started out supporting the Arab tribal fighters. Now there are strong allegations among international envoys and Darfur experts that he's supporting the rebels.

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Wheaton, Md.: The U.N. has no intention of resolving the crisis in Sudan. Sudan is ruled by the Arab-occupied government and the Arab League never will allow the U.N. to condemn it, just as the U.N. never has condemned any Arab government, no matter how horrible the atrocities have been.

Ellen Knickmeyer: I'm not sure about that. The United Nations authorizing a 26,000-strong force of peacekeepers and police seems to be a significant action on their part.

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washingtonpost.com: Michael Abramowitz reported today on the gulf between President Bush's professed passion for finding a solution in Darfur and the administration's actual actions. Do you have any explanation for the difference?

Ellen Knickmeyer: I have to say, from being here at the U.N. and African Union conference on Darfur this weekend, that there are a lot of governments that at least want to do something about Darfur -- but no one of them seems to have hit on the right combination of actions to actually change the mind of the combatants, as yet.

The delegations from the various countries and blocs -- U.S., U.K., Canada, China, various African countries -- outnumbered the actual rebel and Khartoum representatives on any one side.

And more than $1 billion is being spent on Darfur each year in aid alone. Peacekeeping is going to cost another $1 billion when the A.U.-U.N. force moves in.

One reason that some people suggest for why there isn't more progress on resolving the conflict is that there are actually too many countries and blocs and other players working on it. With this much international attention, there are a lot of parties trying a lot of things at once.

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washingtonpost.com: Are there any plans to meet the boycotters' demands and limit the groups participating in future peace negotiations?

Ellen Knickmeyer: Supposedly one of the reasons that the Abuja peace deal in 2006 never got off the ground was because only a fraction of rebels were involved in that deal. I think for a deal to work, the major players all would have to be involved, or affected, in some way.

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Washington: Do you think the Libyan government is now monitoring this chat? Are you in any way having to be cautious as to what you say?

Ellen Knickmeyer: Ah, that's a good question. So far I haven't seen the slightest interest by the Libyan government in having a role on what we are writing about Darfur.

Libya, if I might switch subjects, and judging by the shortage of questions I just might, is in a very interesting crossroads right now. It has been shut off from the world for all these years by U.N. and U.S. sanctions -- Libyans call that time "the siege." And now the sanctions are lifted, and all these world powers are rushing in for a share of Libyan oil -- Libya is thought to have the largest reserves in Africa.

You know, I am very sorry, but I have to cut this short right now. I've got to catch a plane to Tripoli, and government ride is leaving now. All best. Thanks for your interest.

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