Home | News    Thursday 15 February 2007

US envoy fears "blood bath" in Darfur

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Feb 14, 2007 (WASHINGTON) — The U.S. special envoy to Sudan said on Wednesday he feared aid groups could be forced out of Darfur and pro-government Janjaweed militia would try to close camps sheltering millions, resulting in a "blood bath."

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Andrew Natsios

Andrew Natsios, appointed special envoy to Sudan last September, said the humanitarian situation was deteriorating in Darfur, with an effort to expel aid groups helping more than 2.5 million people displaced by the conflict.

"The government has lost control. There is anarchy in large parts of Darfur. The risk is that if the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) leave, the U.N. humanitarian agencies leave ... there will be no one to care for these people in the camps who can be trusted," he told Reuters in an interview.

"There is a potential for an explosion if the agencies leave that would match the risk to people of the 2003 and 2004 time period," he said.

He said 300,000 to 400,000 people were killed during that time, which the U.S. has classified as genocide but Sudan says is not the case. Natsios said civilians were still being massacred and villages burned down.

It has become increasingly difficult for relief workers in Darfur and the U.N. said last week that attacks on aid workers there almost doubled in 2006.

In addition to insecurity, government-imposed bureaucracy and travel restrictions have hindered aid operations. About 14,000 aid workers operate in Darfur.

Natsios said there was also a risk the Janjaweed militia, with the backing of the Sudanese government, would violently try to close down camps where more than 2.5 million people are sheltering. The Janjaweed have been blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur.

"It would be a blood bath," he said.

PROTECTING AID EFFORT

He said U.S. diplomacy would focus on protecting the humanitarian aid effort in Darfur.

"It is a matter of people’s lives being protected and preventing the expulsion of the aid community and any attacks on the camps. It affects people’s lives in a very direct sense," he said.

The United States is losing patience with Sudan’s government over its handling of Darfur and is considering a more robust response to put pressure on Khartoum, a strategy Natsios has referred to as "Plan B."

He declined to provide any details of Plan B, saying it was classified.

However, last week Natsios confirmed in congressional testimony a Washington Post report that financial steps were part of a secret, three-tiered package of coercive measures that Washington will implement if Sudan fails to stop the Darfur violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said the United States had a number of options, including actions that could be taken by the U.S. Treasury if Khartoum bars an international force comprising troops from the United Nations and the African Union.

Advocacy groups accuse the Bush administration of delaying Plan B, and the Save Darfur Coalition has launched a petition urging the White House to implement tougher action.

Among actions the Save Darfur Coalition is calling for are stronger sanctions, a U.N. authorized no-fly zone and a contingency plan to respond to the potential collapse of security and humanitarian aid networks in Darfur.

Some U.S. lawmakers want the United States to take military action in Darfur, including Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware but Washington fears it will lose allies if it takes this option.

(Reuters)

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