The U.S. State Department's second-ranking official warned Sudan's government Monday that time is running out for it to accept an expanded peacekeeping mission for Darfur or face new sanctions. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visited Sudan, Chad and Libya on a North African mission focusing on the Darfur crisis last week. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The deputy secretary is accusing Sudan of pursuing a deliberate campaign of intimidation against aid workers in Darfur, and he is warning the Khartoum government that time is running out for it to halt violence in the region.
The Bush administration last week was ready to impose a tough new set of economic sanctions against Sudan.
But it withheld action to give U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon more time, a matter of weeks, to persuade Khartoum authorities to accept expanded international peacekeeping in Darfur.
In a talk with reporters, Negroponte would not be more specific about a time frame for the process, but suggested that the international community's patience with the current situation in Darfur is wearing thin.
"Time is running out," he said. "The government of Sudan must disarm the Janjaweed militias, the Arab militias that we all know could not exist without the Sudanese government's active support. And all non-signatory rebel groups must cease their attacks, put down their arms, and come to the negotiating table."
Much of the violence in Darfur over the last four years is blamed on the Janjaweed. But local Darfur rebels who refused to sign a May 2006 Darfur peace agreement in Nigeria are also accused of attacks on civilians and aid workers.
Negroponte said his meeting in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was not particularly encouraging and that Sudanese officials have a history of reneging on stated Darfur commitments.
The U.N. secretary-general asked for the delay on sanctions after President Bashir told him Sudan would accept the first phase of deployment of a planned 20,000 member United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.
However, Negroponte, the former chief of U.S. national intelligence, said he left Khartoum doubtful that Sudan will actually follow through.
"It's been since August of last year that the U.N. Security Council resolution was passed, mandating additional forces to the Darfur region," said Negroponte. "And, here we are, eight months later, still talking about the various modalities."
"So, I came away from that meeting with a healthy sense, a strong sense, of skepticism as to whether they might fulfill their commitments."
Negroponte, who visited Darfur during his mission last week, said the number of displaced persons in the region - reported to exceed two million - has been increasing.
He said conditions at camps for the displaced have stabilized with malnutrition and mortality rates declining. But he said the situation is precarious, and it would not take much for things to deteriorate dramatically.
Negroponte also visited Chad, which borders Darfur, to discuss spillover violence that has affected that country.
He said, in Libya, he endorsed a plan by the Muammar Gadhafi government to convene a regional conference on Darfur at the end of this month that would try to bring holdout Darfur rebel groups into the 2006 peace framework.