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President-Elect Obama Asked to Take Quick Action on Darfur

While president-elect Barack Obama faces the challenges of a global economic crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one group, ENOUGH, is asking that he also tackle the crisis in Darfur.

ENOUGH is a project of the Center for American Progress. Co-chair John Prendergast tells VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that a letter is being sent to Mr. Obama calling for a "peace surge" in Sudan.

"We've seen the military surge in Iraq. We've seen the development surge that NATO's announced for Afghanistan. What's really needed in Sudan and the broader Horn and East Africa region is a peace surge. And for Sudan specifically that means a sustained high-level peace process that will get a resolution of the various issues that are embroiling Darfur and will redouble efforts to implement successfully the peace agreement that solved the war in southern Sudan that was signed in 2005," he says.

Prendergast calls it "cost effective and smart diplomacy." The ENOUGH letter calls for Mr. Obama to set up a panel to focus on Darfur.

"It's about putting a few people, a team of people on the case with the objective to end the crisis in Sudan, not simply manage the symptoms through massive amounts of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping support," he says.

He would like to see such a team in place within the first 100 days of the Obama administration. "…This is the time to set the parameters and set the agenda. There will be much bigger issues, much bigger fish to fry in the kitchen for the new Obama administration. No question. But part of governing is walking and chewing gum and eating crackers and doing all this stuff at the same time. And we think the administration can make the creation of a sustained serious peace process for Darfur a top priority," he says.

Asked whether the United States must lead the peace effort for Darfur, Prendergast says, "The US ought to be a partner in a broader global effort. The US doesn't need to be the negotiator, but what the US can bring is a coherence, a strategic coherence to international efforts. What we're missing right now is any kind of a strategy about how to deal with the parties in Sudan. We don't have anyone who's put forward an approach that makes sense that key countries with influence can buy into. But at this point, there is no plan."

ENOUGH has made a number of recommendations to the incoming administration, such as continuing the International Criminal Court investigation. Prendergast says, "It's crucial that this era of total impunity for crimes against humanity of incomparable magnitude comes to an end. The International Criminal Court provides the first tool, the first lever, in our lifetimes, to begin to address this culture of impunity that reigns today with the regime in Sudan."

He says that the ICC prosecutor should proceed with the case against Sudanese president Omar Hassan al Bashir and continue investigating rebels as well. "It's up to the (UN) Security Council and the larger international community to address the peace question. There has to be a peace deal," he says, "before consideration can be given to suspending the case, once it's brought, against President Bashir," he says.

The ENOUGH co-chair says the current arms embargo has failed to stop weapons from flowing into the western Sudanese region. He says the embargo "has become a bit embarrassing. There has to be a much greater effort on the part of the sanctions committees that are established by the Security Council to figure out how you're actually going to implement this and what the penalties are for violation."

ENOUGH also calls for a ban against "offensive military flights," but not a no-fly zone similar to those that existed in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003.

Prendergast says, "I really have to parse this one carefully. I don't think the no-fly zone is the first line of defense. I think we haven't undertaken the kind of significant diplomacy that is necessary. If that diplomacy, once utilized, fails, then you begin to put forward the military options. What is needed, and President-elect Obama has said this during the campaign, is some capacity to threaten those planes that actually carry out offensive military attacks in violation of United Nation Security Council mandates."

However, it's a complicated and risky policy. "The big elephant in the living room with the no-fly zone is if you do that, which is a very big stretch from where we are now, then the very clear possibility exists that the Sudanese regime will take the step of closing air space to humanitarian operations. And if they do that then the international community has to be prepared to escalate on Khartoum with some significant military actions in response to the cutoff [of] the aid system because hundreds of thousands of people will die. This is one of those cases where you first don't make matters worse," he says.

Prendergast says China and the Gulf States should be involved in the Darfur peace process. China has a vested interest in Sudan through its involvement in oil production in Sudan. "I think an Obama administration could do well to engage very closely with the Chinese and say, 'Let's do this together.' The other way to do it is through multi-lateral pressures…to build that coalition of the willing, that wouldn't probably include the Chinese or the Arab countries, but other countries who would be willing to go along with multi-lateral measures that imposed a cost on the regime and the rebels for their escalation of military actions," he says.

More information on ENOUGH's position on Sudan can be found at