Home | News    Tuesday 21 November 2006

US threatens "plan B" if Sudan does not act before Jan 1

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Nov 20, 2006 (WASHINGTON) — US’s special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, on Monday set a deadline of Jan. 1 for Khartoum to make progress on Darfur or have the United States and others resort to what he called "Plan B."

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Andrew S. Natsios

Warning that time was running out, Natsios declined to say what Plan B comprised, but he made clear Khartoum must accept a joint U.N./African Union force in Darfur by Jan. 1 or a tougher line would be taken against Sudan’s government.

"On January 1st, either we see change or we go to Plan B," Natsios told reporters at the State Department. When pressed what he meant by this, Natsios replied: "I am not going to get into that ... Plan B is a different approach to this."

The United States has notably held back on threatening more punitive measures against Sudan in the hope it will allow international troops into Darfur. But a forced military intervention is very remote and any punitive measures after Jan. 1 would likely be economic or diplomatic in nature.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after an international meeting last week in Ethiopia that Sudan had agreed in principle to a joint U.N.-AU force in Darfur, but Sudanese officials later denied any such agreement.

Such a "hybrid" force would take over from about 7,000 under-funded African Union troops struggling to keep the peace in Darfur, an area about the size of France.

Natsios said a Jan. 1 deadline was set for several reasons — Annan was stepping down as head of the world body then; the AU’s current mandate expired in Darfur on Jan. 1 and the U.S. Congress was changing from Republican to Democratic hands after the U.S. election this month.

"So for three different reasons we need to understand we are on a very tight timeline. Decisions have to be made," said Natsios earlier in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "We are running out of time."

SUSPICION ON ALL SIDES

Natsios said there was suspicion and mistrust on all sides over Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in fighting since 2003 and over 2.5 million people displaced.

Sudan argues that sending an international force to Darfur amounts to colonialism, a charge Natsios called nonsense. "The only agenda the United States has in Darfur is a human rights and humanitarian agenda," he said.

But an official from Sudan’s Embassy in Washington said his government had every right to be suspicious because of "broken promises" in the past. "I think Sudan will continue to be suspicious," the official told Natsios.

Natsios countered the United States had its own reasons for mistrust, adding there had been a rise in attacks on civilians in Darfur in recent weeks and there were some in Sudan’s government who believed a military solution was needed.

The U.N.’s head of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, appealed to the government of Sudan to stop military operations and said there had to be a political process in place for any peacekeeping operation to have an impact in Darfur.

"Clearly, a cease-fire is not going to last, it is not going to be sustainable if there is no serious political process," he told the Brookings Institution.

Part of Khartoum’s reluctance to accept an international force into Darfur has been the fear that those who had committed atrocities would be rounded up.

Natsios said there was no compromise on handling those who had committed atrocities and the United States was dealing "privately" with this issue. He declined to elaborate.

(Reuters)

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