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Congressmen Urge President Obama to Appoint Special Envoy to Sudan

Five members of the US Congress this week sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to appoint a special envoy for Sudan. The letter follows the issuing of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir and the subsequent expulsion of 13 foreign aid organizations from Sudan. The ICC warrant accuses President al-Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The congressmen say more than one million people are now at risk of being without food, water and medical care. They also say the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the more than 20 year civil war between the north and the south, is in jeopardy.

Among those who sent the letter to President Obama is Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from the state of Virginia, who says a special envoy to Sudan is needed now.

"The genocide's been going on for five years. They (Obama administration) put a special envoy in for the Middle East and I commend them.… They did the same thing for Afghanistan and Pakistan…. But they've done nothing on Darfur," he says.

Wolf has seen firsthand the conditions in Darfur. "I was the first member of the Congress, the House, to go to Darfur. I've seen with my own eyes what's taking place and what continues to take place. And now with the indictment of the ICC of Bashir, the conditions are even getting worse. And I don't know what they're waiting for. I just don't know what they're waiting for. So, we're just asking, please, please, put somebody in, a good person," he says.

Wolf says there are a number of qualified candidates for the job of special envoy to Sudan, Including former senator Bill Frist, John Prendergast of the ENOUGH Project, Roger Winter, formerly of the US Committee for Refugees, USAID, and special representative for the State Department, and Ted Dagne of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress.

The Bush administration had appointed three special envoys to Sudan. Asked whether they were effective, Congressman Wolf says, "They were partially effective and Senator (John) Danforth was the one that negotiated the north-south agreement that ended the fighting that had gone on for 21 years."

Wolf says the call for the special envoy is a bi-partisan effort. "There's nothing partisan at all about Darfur or a special envoy…. Just let's get the thing done," he says.

Wolf rejects the notion that a delay in appointing an envoy is due to the Obama administration restructuring the State Department following eight years of the Bush administration. "People are dying every day. All of the NGOs are being forced out because of the indictment of Bashir…. If you were sick and dying with the flu or a 104 temperature and I told you that, well, they were going to wait to reorganize the nursing station before they could get to you. It may take a couple of weeks. You'd be moaning and groaning and say help. And they're asking for help. They're begging for help," Wolf says.

The Virginia congressman says he thought the first special envoy President Obama appointed would have been to Sudan. Wolf says that if such an envoy is chosen, that person would be ready very quickly to take on the crisis. He says, "I think Senator Frist would be in place within 24 hours. And Roger Winter goes out to the region quite often and I think Roger would be in place certainly within 24 hours." He says that the same holds true for Prendergast and Dagne.

Congressman Wolf says,"The people there are suffering and it's time to move."

The other members of the House of Representatives who signed the letter to President Obama are Donald Payne, Michal Capuano, Alcee Hastings and Chris Smith. 

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