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Envoy Pursues Restoration of Aid in Darfur, Sudan Peace Agreement

During his visit to Darfur, US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration has urged Sudanese humanitarian groups to join in the effort to rescue Darfur war victims. After visiting the Zamzam refugee camp in North Darfur over the weekend, Ambassador Gration, a retired US Air Force Major General, also suggested that Khartoum should invite in aid groups from other Arab nations to help save Darfur's displaced population, which he says lack water and adequate health care.

Last month, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir ordered 13 foreign aid groups to leave Sudan after he was charged by the International Criminal Court with committing war crimes in Darfur. Ruth Messinger is one of six Save Darfur coalition activists who met with Ambassador Gration and President Barack Obama last Monday at the White House as both men prepared to depart on overseas diplomatic missions. Messinger, who also serves as president of the American Jewish World Service, says that the Obama administration grasps the urgency of ensuring the reinstatement of aid groups and finding a political solution that will bring peace to all of Sudan.

"We made that point pretty intently and intensely, that something had to be done to get those groups back in or to find some alternate way to ensure that aid was then going to be delivered in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of the people who were totally cut off. And I think the emphasis there, of course, was not on the fact, which the envoy and the president know very well, but our emphasis on the importance of speed, the real likelihood of having seen already in Darfur of genocide, not only by actual killing, but essentially genocide by attrition, we're now in danger of seeing genocide by starvation." she warned.

Six US lawmakers also attended the meeting with President Obama, including Senators Russ Feingold (D- WI, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Africa subcommittee), majority whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Johnny Isaacson (R-GA), and Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Congressmen Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Howard Berman (D-CA) of the House International Relations Committee. While addressing his guests, the president voiced the hope that Sudan could avoid experiencing an enormous humanitarian crisis as it tries to deal with current conditions it faces. Ruth Messinger says she expects that US officials will deliver a clear message to Khartoum that greater assistance is urgently needed to be restored to Darfur to avoid a greater tragedy.

"I think these are all separate issues, that is, what is going to happen on a long-run basis with the prosecutor and the indictment, what's going to happen to really put back in place the various steps that need to be taken to work on broad-scale national peace negotiations, and those are each steps that need to proceed. If we were to wait until there was real progress on any of those issues, as a condition for restoring the aid workers, there would be a lot more people in Darfur who would be dead," Messinger explained.

She noted that Ambassador Gration's plans include several consensus-building visits to Sudan and surrounding countries after his current visit, and says that she is confident the envoy understands the need of helping Sudan foster a durable agreement that will bring peace to the entire country.

"I think the administration is entirely in agreement that you can't end the genocidal violence in Darfur unless you're also working on bringing comprehensive peace to the country of Sudan, investing again in the agreements that were reached in 2005 in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which provided, among other things, for a census to be taken in Sudan right now so that it would be possible to have national elections before the end of this year and so it would be possible to have a vote on the unification of the country at the end of 2010. And so there was a lot of discussion of an agreement, I think, on all sides, from the activists, from the members of Congress who were there, and from the activists who were there that the problems in Sudan should not be addressed piecemeal," she said.

The six Darfur coalition activists who attended the meeting with President Obama, his Sudan envoy, and the legislators included Ruth Messinger, Jerry Fowler, the president of the Save Darfur Coalition, the Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, executive director of My Sister's Keeper, John Prendergast, co-director of the Enough Project, and two Darfuri activists, Omer Ismail, founder of the Darfur Peace and Development Organization, and Jimmy Mulla, President of Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom.

Along with other members of the alliance of more than 180 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations, the Darfur advocates spoke out forcefully following the March 4 indictment of Sudan's President Bashir for President Obama to name a special envoy to bring greater focus and urgency to United States foreign policy for ending the fighting in Darfur. Earlier presidentially appointed US envoys for Sudan succeeded in cementing a peace agreement that ended a 22-year-long civil war in southern Sudan.