Home | News    Monday 4 June 2007

UK, US have to accept they can’t force Sudan over Darfur - Russia

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By Gethin Chamberlain and Denise Driscoll in Darfur,

June 3, 2007 (LONDON) — Russia has told Britain and America to stop being "so emotional" about Darfur and to accept that they cannot force Sudan to find a peaceful solution to conflict in the region.

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Sudanese displaced at the Kalma Camp in south Darfur, in 2005 hold a banner urging deployment of UN forces in Darfur.

Tony Blair and George W. Bush are expected to push for support for tougher sanctions against Khartoum when they meet fellow G8 leaders at their summit in Germany this week. But privately they have accepted that the best they can hope for is a statement of condemnation for Sudan rather than solid promises of action.

The stumbling block is Russia and its refusal to play hardball with Sudan. Along with China, which has strong commercial and military links with the Sudanese regime, it has repeatedly argued in the United Nations security council that dialogue is the only way to bring Khartoum into line.

At least 300,000 people are believed to have died since the conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 and a further 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. In the past couple of months there has been a dramatic escalation in the violence in southern Darfur and last week people fleeing the fighting spoke of fresh attacks by the largely Arab janjaweed militia which is allied with the Sudanese government.

On Friday, Tony Blair wrapped up a farewell tour of Africa with a call for fellow G8 leaders to "step up to the plate" and do more to alleviate the misery of the world’s poorest continent at their forthcoming summit. But Britain’s hopes of using the summit to persuade the Russians to back an extension of existing sanctions against Khartoum look doomed to failure. Yury Viktorovich Fedotov, the Russian ambassador to Britain, told The Sunday Telegraph that sanctions were "not a matter of punishment but a matter of achieving a political goal".

He said Russia had received positive signals suggesting that Sudan’s president, Omar Bashir, might be prepared to accept a hybrid African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur and wanted to give him more time before stepping up the pressure.

Mr Fedotov added that Britain and America might do better to follow Russia’s "less emotional, more pragmatic and more practical" approach to dealing with Khartoum, rather than becoming emotionally involved. "It is a very tragic situation and it generates a lot of emotions, which in a way is good because it helps to attract the attention of the international community to the dramatic situation in Darfur, but on the other side emotions are not always helpful to find a diplomatic solution," he said.

"At some point emotions have to be put aside and diplomats have to work in a very straightforward but meaningful way to reach a solution which could bring a lasting peace and stability.

"This problem has a lot of dimensions and if we start immediately to paint it in black and white it would be more difficult to find a necessary solution.

"I will put it bluntly, sometimes there will be compromises, there is no doubt about that, if there is to be lasting peace."

British diplomats admit there is little chance of concrete action: "It is going to be words rather than results," said one.

"We will be looking for tough language because we have come to the conclusion that we have to ramp up the pressure on Bashir, but others will be trying to water it down."

The diplomat said Britain and America wanted strongly to condemn the latest use of air attacks by Sudanese government forces, but were not certain whether even that would make it into the final communiqué.

Last week, the Sudanese military attacked towns and villages around the Darfur region after a military convoy was ambushed by a rebel militia in south Darfur. The government troops suffered heavy losses.

Government forces used the ambush as an excuse to launch fresh attacks on villages in south Darfur. About 2,500 people fled the village of Sesseban, but many were trapped in nearby Khorshamam, where they were attacked again, while government officials in Khartoum assured the UN that ceasefire talks were under way in the region.

Survivors who fled to Nyala, the capital of south Darfur, reported being separated from family members as government forces and Janjaweed militias set fire to their homes. Clutching her baby sister, Nour Nadir Adam, 10, said she feared she was now an orphan. Her aunt Fatima loaded them on to the truck taking them to safety.

"They were shooting at everyone, killing many people," said Fatima. "The rebels say they control our land and that is why we were attacked. But Sesseban belongs to us, we live there and we are civilians, not rebels. The rebels have been using us, stealing our belongings and making us pay money for water."

A UN official in Darfur said: "This new outbreak of fighting is of great concern to us. It appears south Darfur is deteriorating quickly with significant increases in militia attacks and rebel and government fighting."

(Sunday Telegraph)

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