The U.S. State Department Tuesday accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of backtracking from commitments he made on the introduction of new peacekeeping forces in violence-torn Darfur. U.S. officials say Sudan could face punitive action if it reneges on its promises. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The State Department says it is extremely troubled by a letter from the Sudanese president to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that appears to retreat from commitments he made last November with regard to a new peace force for Darfur.
It says there is growing impatience among the international community over delaying tactics by the Khartoum government, and that if they continue Sudan could face a range of punitive measures.
Last September, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution to replace the current 7,000-member African Union observer mission in Darfur with a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping force three times as large.
The plan was amended at an international meeting in Addis Ababa in November in response to Sudanese concerns, making it a hybrid force of U.N. and African Union troops, which Sudan agreed to admit under a three-stage process.
Only a small logistical team for the new force is thus far in place, and in his letter to the U.N. President Bashir appears to renege on commitments to allow some 3,000 U.N. military police and support equipment including helicopters - a so-called heavy support package - to enter in the second phase of the deployment.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the letter is an apparent step backward from commitments Mr. Bashir has already made.
"It's troubling to see him now, after agreeing to the deployment of this heavy package, to now come back and try and cherry-pick certain elements of it," he said. "Because that package again is something that's been worked out by the AU with the United Nations, and it's what the AU thinks is necessary to be able to support the mission. So clearly, our patience is limited. And I think the patience of the international community is limited, and I think that we unfortunately may be approaching a time when other steps will have to be taken."
Casey said any administration decision on other steps would have to await consultations with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by U.S. envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios.
Natsios, just back from a trip to the region, including Sudan, threatened the Khartoum government late last year with coercive steps - what he termed Plan B - if Sudan did not cooperate in the early deployment of the hybrid force.
The introduction of the force has since been delayed by a shortage of available peacekeeping troops - the process complicated by the need to also generate an African peacekeeping force for Somalia.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here said the lack of available troops makes the Bashir letter all the more surprising, since the international community is not yet even in a position to test his good faith on the November commitments.
China, which has been a diplomatic supporter of the Sudanese government, has also expressed surprise at the Bashir letter and asked for an explanation.
In a related development, Spokesman Casey welcomed a report Monday by a U.N. Human Rights Commission mission to Darfur, which accused the Khartoum government of organizing and taking part in human rights crimes against its own citizens in Darfur.
The Bush administration has shunned the new U.N. human rights body for an alleged selective focus on the human rights record of Israel.
Casey said to the extent the U.N. panel focuses on something other than Israel, it is positive. But he said it is too early to say if the Darfur report reflects a broader change in approach by the 47-nation council.