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Bush, Sudan VP Seek to Reverse Growing Threats of Violence,Genocide

Sudan’s First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit will meet with US President George W. Bush at the White House today. Mr. Kiir, who also serves as president of semi-autonomous southern Sudan, is expected to address concerns about the US – brokered 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), which ended 22 years of civil war between Sudan’s northern and southern regions. The meeting takes place as the International Criminal Court (ICC) considers whether to issue an impending indictment against Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Mr. Bashir has threatened to accelerate attacks against civilians in Sudan’s besieged western region of Darfur if the indictments are carried out.

Sudan activist, the Reverend Gloria White-Hammond, is a Boston, Massachusetts inner city minister and co-founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a women’s group that is working with Vice President Salva Kiir to open a school for girls in southern Sudan. She says that the looming indictment has boosted the challenge for Mr. Kiir and the US administration of reducing heightened tensions in both Darfur and southern Sudan.

“Everybody knows that the future for Bashir, in light of the ICC action remains unclear. So President Kiir has always led with his own concerns about southern Sudan, which as he understands now has implications, not only for the southerners, but really for the entire country, particularly in light of the ICC action,” she said.

Monday’s White House meeting also comes one day before Mr. Bush holds his final meeting as president with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Despite both parties’ preoccupation with the Israel-Palestinian confrontation over Gaza, the Darfur crisis is slated to be a top issue of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. Increased violence and Sudanese government-backed air strikes over Darfur could further hamper the work of a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force operating in the western region and block deliveries of humanitarian aid by international rescue groups, should President Bashir retaliate against legal action. The Reverend White-Hammond says Washington needs to formulate a tough stand for Mr. Kiir to take back to Khartoum to convince officials of strong international resolve to end the government-backed violence.

“There is some concern that if in fact the ICC does move forward and indicts President Bashir that that will mean repercussions for the people in Darfur, and it will also have implications for the people in south Sudan. And that’s why you’re seeing him (Mr. Kiir) and the party that he belongs to making greater inroads. There was a recent visit into Darfur. I was able to visit with him just this past August. You have to remember that this has tremendous implications for President Kiir’s role in the entire country,” she noted.

In the past year, disagreements over rights and the allocation of profits from the oil-rich Sudanese town of Abyei, which straddles the north-south border, have led to renewed fighting and violations of the three-year-long absence of hostilities. To ensure that the 2005 agreement for southern Sudan remains in effect, Reverend White-Hammond says that Washington needs to hold the parties responsible for carrying out their treaty obligations.

“We want to make sure that the Sudanese government really delivers on some of the key provisions of the comprehensive peace agreement. Elections are supposed to happen, according to the peace agreement, in July. At this point, people surmise that if they do happen, it might be late 2009, probably more into 2010. That offers the possibility of a democratic transformation for Sudan. Again, we don’t really know whether they will happen, but if they are going to happen, it really is going to require the support of the United States,” she said.

While she has great praise for the Bush administration’s leadership and determination in brokering a peace deal for the people of southern Sudan, Reverend White-Hammond says she is looking forward to later this month, when the Obama administration takes office, when she predicts the new president will seek a new multilateral approach that is designed to push the Bashir government toward making peace. She cautions that new ways are needed to overcome recent tendencies by Washington to let Sudan avoid accountability for its actions in Darfur.

“One of the ongoing concerns has been that this current administration has been trying to play it both ways. We been on the one hand saying, ‘yes, you’re culpable in terms of genocide, but on the other hand, trying to get their cooperation in terms of this war on terror. ’ The next administration, if not this one, should make it very clear that we are no longer going to be doing it both ways, that we have evidence that suggests that there is in fact culpability on the part of this government, that we’re going to make that evidence available,” she argued.