Home | News    Thursday 31 May 2007

US hints at boycotting 2008 Bejing Olympics on Darfur crisis

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May 30, 2007 (UNITED NATIONS) — At a time when the US envoy hinted at boycotting the Bejing Olympics, its demand for new U.N. sanctions against Sudan faces an uphill struggle, not least because Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he wants more time for diplomacy to help end the four-year conflict in Darfur.

Ban urged the U.S. and the U.K., on April 2 to delay a push for tougher sanctions - and he indicated that he remains opposed not only to President George W. Bush’s call for U.N. sanctions but to new U.S. economic measures that Bush ordered Tuesday.

The strong desire among many Security Council members to support the secretary-general coupled with the opposition of some members to sanctions in general - including China which has strong commercial ties with Sudan - signals a difficult road ahead for the U.S. and its key supporter the U.K.

While Bush said new sanctions are necessary to stop the bloodshed in Darfur, the U.S. push comes at a delicate time in negotiations on a 23,000-strong U.N.-African Union "hybrid" force for Darfur and efforts by special envoys for both organizations to get all combatants to the negotiating table to try to reach a political settlement.

The U.S. and the U.K. said sanctions can pressure the Sudanese government to agree to the "hybrid" force and to improve the humanitarian and security situation, but Russia, China and South Africa questioned why Washington and London were pressing for sanctions when Khartoum had taken some positive steps.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya late Wednesday called Bush’s moves on U.S. and possible U.N. sanctions "quite unfortunate."

He said that on the peackeeping, political and humanitarian front "there are a lot of efforts in trying to push forward a diplomatic solution to the problems in Darfur." The U.S. push for sanctions "might make the fragile situation a bit more complicated, so I think we are a bit concerned."

Ban, who has made resolving the Darfur conflict a top priority, told reporters "we will have to wait to see" whether the new U.S. sanctions make his efforts to get Sudanese government agreement for the "hybrid" force more difficult.

"I am very much committed to work as fast as I can to bring a comprehensive resolution in the political process, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian matters," Ban told reporters after Bush’s announcement on Tuesday. "I need some more time."

In order to help bring peace and security to Darfur, the secretary-general urged the international community to work "in a mutually reinforcing way" and the Sudanese government and rebel groups to seek a peace agreement as soon as possible.

The conflict between ethnic African rebels and pro-government janjaweed militia in the vast western Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million Darfurians.

A beleaguered, 7,000-strong African Union force has been unable to stop the fighting. Neither has a peace agreement signed a year ago year between the government and one rebel group because other rebel factions have called the deal insufficient.

Last November, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir to a three-phase U.N. plan to strengthen the African troops - but he has delayed its implementation and backtracked on the agreement for the hybrid force.

After five months of stalling, the Sudanese president gave the go-ahead for the second phase in mid-April - a "heavy support package" with 3,000 U.N. troops, police and civilian personnel along with six attack helicopters and other equipment.

The African Union and the U.N. agreed last Thursday on details of the hybrid force and Ban handed a copy of that proposal to Sudan’s U.N. ambassador on Friday. He said Tuesday he proposed to the Sudanese government that "technical consultations" take place early next week - June 5 and 6.

U.N. envoy Jan Eliasson also reported some progress in trying to get more than a dozen rebel groups and factions to the negotiating table.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin appeared surprised at the timing of the new push for U.N. sanctions.

"There have been some positive developments, so this kind of a thing to my mind would be something of a departure from the current common strategy of the secretary-general and the Security Council," Churkin said.

As the buyer of two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and a major investor in its economy, China faces growing criticism for not doing enough to pressure Khartoum to end the violence in Darfur. Some critics have called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Li Junhua, a senior Chinese diplomat, rejected any link between the Olympics and Darfur, and stressed that China is always cautious about sanctions.

"We never, ever believe that sanctions would contribute a lot to move the situation, no matter in Sudan or in other cases," he said. "We tend to believe right now more coordinated and collective efforts should be done to convince and persuade our colleagues in Khartoum to move forward to implement the three-phase approach."

Nonetheless, Khalilzad and the U.K.’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry are moving ahead on drafting a new sanctions resolution.

"We won’t introduce it for a few days yet," Jones Parry said Tuesday.

The resolution will add more names to a list of government and rebel figures subject to an asset freeze and travel ban for obstructing peace efforts or violating human rights, it will expand an embargo on arms sales to Sudan, and order the monitoring of Sudanese government flights over Darfur, he said.

The Security Council is planning to visit Khartoum on June 17 as part of an African mission and Li said he doesn’t expect any action on sanctions before then.

He said he expects council members to discuss deploying the hybrid force and ways to expedite the political process with Sudanese leaders - which are "the top priority" for the council.

Whether new U.N. sanctions would have an impact on Khartoum, and whether China would abide by them, remains to be seen.

South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo questioned the aim of sanctions.

"We have to have a plan. So after we apply the sanctions, what happens then?" he said. "Right now the surprising thing was that we were thinking that the government of Sudan was now beginning to take the right actions, and agree to what we are going to do." The U.K.’s Jones Parry said he believes "the threat of sanctions has had an effect" - but "at the moment there’s no sign that it’s had quite enough effect."

Part of the strategy of new sanctions, he said, is to try to concentrate "the minds in Khartoum and among the rebels to get them actually to do what they need to do."

Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, agreed that Khartoum must do more - stop attacks, dismantle the janjaweed militias, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and agree quickly to the hybrid force.

Would the U.S. support a boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

"We will see in terms of Chinese actions in the council with regard to Sudan," Khalilzad said.

(AP)

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