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Lawmakers Urge Appointment of US Special Envoy on Sudan

Two U.S. lawmakers say the Bush administration continues to resist appointment of a special envoy on Sudan, without which they say the situation in the strife-torn region of Darfur threatens the complete breakdown of efforts for peace.

Two of the most outspoken members of Congress on Darfur, Frank Wolf and Chris Smith, say bold action is needed to avert a breakdown of both the Darfur peace agreement and the larger Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan.

Both point to what they say is a void created by the departure of Robert Zoellick, the former Deputy Secretary of State who recently resigned.

Zoellick played a crucial role in negotiations leading to a Darfur peace agreement last May, which, however, was signed only by one of the Darfur rebel groups.

Congressman Wolf says only a special envoy can re-focus attention of the Bush administration and prevent the situation in Darfur and Sudan generally from deteriorating:

"There is no one [U.S.] point person focusing on Sudan," Wolf says. "Who would you call today? Who would [Sudan First Vice President southern Sudan leader] Salva Kir call? Who would anyone call over there?"

Wolf notes that Salva Kir, and Minni Minnawi, leader of one of only three Darfur rebel factions to sign the May accord, met with President Bush last week at the White House.

Appointing a special envoy, he says would send a clear message to Khartoum of continuing U.S. determination to bring peace to Sudan.

Congressman Smith refers to what he calls a "gaping hole" in U.S. leadership on Darfur and Sudan, as Washington's attention has focused on the Middle East and North Korea.

He says a special envoy would meet with the key players in Sudan and Darfur with the aim of preventing the collapse of peace efforts:

"We look around, whether it be the problems in the Middle East or the problems with North Korea, there is always something clamoring for attention. But [in] Darfur, every day men and women and children die a needless death because of that inattention," Smith says.

In a conversation last week with Jendayi Frazer, the top U.S. official for Africa, Congressman Wolf says he received strong negative resistance to his renewed call for a special envoy.

That is not acceptable, he says, noting that Congress provided 250-thousand dollars for the administration to pay the costs of an envoy.

Wolf urges President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help overcome such resistance:

"Secretary Rice has been there [Darfur]. Secretary Rice told me she cared about it," Wolf says. "The president has personally told me he cared about it. They should appoint this special envoy and get this person moving quickly to deal with the issue."

Appearing with lawmakers was David Rubenstein, with the Save Darfur Coalition:

"By allowing our focus to move away from this, by not maintaining the leadership that the U.S. and this administration has held, we are saying to the world that genocide is no longer as important to us as it once was, and that we can step away from the commitments and obligations we made," Rubenstein says.

Rubenstein says the U.N. Security Council must quickly approve an effective international force with a clear mandate to protect civilians in Darfur, along with steps to bolster the existing 77-hundred strong African Union force.

Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed an international force with as many as 24-thousand troops and police.

However, the government in Khartoum continues to resist any transformation of the African force to U.N. control, and Annan said securing such consent will require intensive discussions with Khartoum.