Critics of U.S. policy on Sudan say the Bush administration is taking too soft an approach in pressing the Sudanese government to allow deployment of a robust U.N. peacekeeping force to Darfur. Security has continued to deteriorate in Darfur, where two rebel groups have refused to sign on to a peace deal.
A top U.S. official has just returned from Khartoum, where she met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to consult on efforts to end the war in Sudan's western Darfur region, and deploy U.N. peacekeepers to take over from African Union troops.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday on the deployment, but no troops will be dispatched until Sudan agrees, and Sudanese officials have made clear their opposition to a U.N. force.
Nevertheless, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer told reporters Thursday she is confident that will change.
"I am very confident that, ultimately, they will accept the decision of the African Union," she said. "And the decision of the African Union is that there needs to be a transition from AMIS to a UN mission, and I am absolutely confident that, ultimately, the government of Sudan will accept that decision."
Ambassador Frazer says she also delivered a personal message from President Bush urging Sudan to move ahead with the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May and to allow the transformation of the beleaguered African Union force of seven-thousand troops into a 20,000 strong U.N. mission. As an incentive, President Bush offered to meet with his Sudanese counterpart, if he agrees to the U.N. deployment.
David Mozersky is the Horn of Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group.
He says the Bush administration is clearly giving Khartoum a pass on Darfur, a conflict that it has described as genocidal. He also blames the international community as a whole for not backing up its tough talk with action.
"The strategy of engagement must be one of much stronger pressure than we have seen so far," he said. "That the strategy of simply dangling carrots is unlikely to provide any kind of traction with the [Sudanese] government. And I think history backs up this point. And the international community has primarily used threats that prove to be empty threats and diplomatic niceties to try to get the government to comply."
Mozersky says that, for more than two years, the U.S. and its allies have demanded that Khartoum disarm the so-called Janjaweed militias, Arab proxies the government used to wage war against rebel forces. The militias are blamed for well-documented atrocities against tens-of-thousands of Darfur civilians.
The U.N. estimates the nearly four-year-long conflict has killed hundreds-of-thousands of people and displaced more than two million others.
So far, only token disarmament of Arab fighters has taken place.
Of new concern are reports of government troop movements in the north of Darfur.
The United Nations says it has seen a new build-up of Sudanese forces in and around El-Fashir. According to Mozersky and a report in The New York Times newspaper, Khartoum is readying itself for a new offensive.
"The reports that we have gotten is actually that the offensive is already under way," added David Mozersky. "And it is being carried out apparently against the National Redemption Front, which is the coalition of non-signatory rebel groups, rebel groups that did not sign the Darfur Peace Agreement in May. And over the last couple of months, they have been undertaking military activity against the leader of the [rebel] SLA [Sudanese Liberation Army] that did sign the peace agreement. And the reports we've been hearing is that they have launched the offensive over the last two or three days."
Ambassador Frazer said she spoke to President Bashir about the dangers of a new offensive, which would be a blatant violation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.
"I also expressed concerned that Sudan's military plan for an offensive against the non-signatories violates the N'Jamena ceasefire agreement and the Darfur Peace Agreement, and can lead to a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation on the ground," he noted. "And to push what many numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions have said, which is that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur. "
Frazer also emphasized that consultations between the United States, the international community and Sudan must continue, in order to see a new U.N. force with a mandate to protect civilians make its way to Darfur. She has said the international community will not fight its way into Darfur.
Still, there has been no clear word from Khartoum that it will accept the force that the U.N. Security Council envisioned when it passed Thursday's resolution for a new international peacekeeping mission.