Sunday, April 17, 2005

New US envoy for Sudan Robert Zoellick lays out priorities for Sudan's crisis

America's new Deputy Defence Secretary, Robert Zoellick, makes a refreshing change from all the other politicians who seem programmed to give nothing away. He has just completed a trip to Iraq and Sudan where he packed in a whole load of tours, meetings and press interviews.

He is the first senior US official to travel to Khartoum since Congress was told last September that a long US inquiry had determined the Sudanese government and allied janjaweed militia were responsible for genocide in the western region.

Upon landing in a noisy propeller plane at Rumbek in south Sudan, Mr. Zoellick was treated like royalty and greeted by several hundred people and a military brass band that had practised for days. With two billion dollars at stake, the band played slightly-off key (smile). You can imagine it was all very friendly. Sudanese people, like most Africans, have a reputation for having gentle, kind and friendly dispositions.

Mr. Zoellick seems right for his job. See why in a New York Times article April 17 by Joel Brinkley, who may have been one of several reporters that accompanied Mr. Zoellick on his trip. Here is an excerpt:

Mr. Zoellick does not seem to trust fully the cables, briefings and diplomatic discussions on which most diplomats base their thinking.

"I like to see people face to face," he said, even if it means traveling halfway around the world. "You can read, you can study, but to see people and circumstances, it's a motivator."

To get ready for meetings here, or in Khartoum or other stops on his journeys, he reads and thinks - alone, his aides said. Most senior diplomats rely most heavily on briefings from State Department experts. Mr. Zoellick relies largely on his own research. He makes copious handwritten notes, then prepares three-by-five file cards he carries in his shirt pocket.

On the way home on Friday, he created a three-column, fine-print list of follow-up calls and other actions for next week and seemed pleased to show the list to reporters - though not in a way that they could read what he had written.

Aides seem both admiring and amused by Mr. Zoellick's style. He seems unconcerned.

As he put it, "I don't spend a lot of time comparing myself to others."
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Zoellick lays out priorities for Sudans crisis

During his two-day visit to Khartoum, Condoleezza Rice's top deputy laid out priorities for addressing Sudan's crisis. Here follows a snapshot and snippets from various press reports.

Robert Zoellick in Khartoum
Photo (AFP/Salah Omar) US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick (L) met Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha (R) 14 April 2005 in Khartoum.

Mr Zoellick said Sudan may not have total control over militias behind atrocities in Darfur but must do more to stop the violence.

He expressed his intent to keep pushing the expansion of the African Union force now serving as monitors in Darfur from roughly 2,000 to 7,000 or 8,000, and to persuade NATO or various NATO members to provide logistical support for the AU mission.

He has pressed for the African Union to double its troops in Darfur, and asked leaders of the government and the rebels to halt raids on villages and relief caravans.

He also pushed for an inclusive process to address underlying conflicts between African tribes, the mostly Arab government, its allied militias and non-Arab rebels.

"The fundamental issue has to be trying to deal with the larger policy," Zoellick said.

"I think that there's a possibility of again strengthening the security conditions in Darfur, but I'm focused very heavily now on meeting the near-term humanitarian needs as we approach the rainy season," Zoellick said after talks with government and other officials on Thursday.

The United States has pledged US $1.7 billion for Sudan's recovery, with much of the aid slated to ease the humanitarian crisis and begin reconstruction of the south. Congress has approved about half that amount.
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Zoellick looks to Sudan's south for blueprint to end Darfur's conflict

Mr Zoellick pressed the Sudanese government Thursday to take specific steps that would demonstrate it is cooperating to halt the violence in Darfur, including allowing NATO or the U.S. military to assist in a rapid expansion of an African-led monitoring force.

He has said that the $2 billion in promised U.S. aid to help implement the North-South peace accord could be imperiled if Khartoum did not address the separate crisis in Darfur, which is located in western Sudan. The threat was also designed to persuade John Garang, the southern rebel leader to get involved in Darfur -- or risk losing the money as well.

Zoellick said he suggested that Sudan demonstrate its sincerity by focusing on specific steps, such as quickly issuing visas to aid workers, facilitating the expansion of the monitoring force established by the African Union (AU) and quickly investigating violent incidents.

Currently, nearly 2,300 AU forces patrol an area the size of France, and later this year the union is expected to approve an increase to 7,700.

Zoellick said he told officials that if Sudan could not adequately police Darfur, the government should welcome the introduction of forces to maintain law and order.

"It's Sudan's country," Zoellick told a news conference. "Countries are held responsible for actions in their territory."

Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, told reporters before meeting Zoellick, "We are working diligently to stop the violence" and "get Darfur back to normalcy." And during a lengthy session with Zoellick, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail also handed him a hand-written action plan for resolving Darfur and returning people to their lands. But Taha has made similar remarks before -- and, during Powell's visit 10 months ago, Ismail announced that Sudan and the U.S. had agreed on an action plan on Darfur.

Mr. Zoellick is exploring whether a small force of NATO, European or U.S. forces could provide logistical support, such as C-130 cargo flights, to help expand the AU force. The Sudanese government has resented the presence of the troops, which although they have a weak official mandate, have helped calm areas where they are deployed.
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Zoellick meets Garang

Mr. Zoellick met the leader of Sudan's former southern rebels on the second day of a diplomatic mission to press for peace efforts in Sudan and an end to the crisis in Darfur.

The U.S. may soon begin to help southern Sudan's former rebels with military modernization as efforts to implement a peace deal gather steam, he said on Friday.

See more in "Zoellick looks to Sudan's south for blueprint to end Darfur's conflict" April 16 2005 report by Guy Dinmore in Rumbek and El Fasher, Sudan.
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Zoellick says Sudan may not have total control over militias

April 15 report by Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent Reuters Rumbek, Sudan. Excerpt:

Zoellick aims to press Garang for quick moves to implement the peace deal -- as he had when he met government officials on Thursday.

Under January's North-South agreement, Khartoum and the SPLM will set up a coalition government, decentralise power, share oil revenues and form joint military units.

Zoellick said Sudan may not have total control over militias behind the atrocities in Darfur but must do more to stop the violence. He urged support for an expanded African Union (AU) monitoring force in the troubled region.

"Where the government doesn't feel it can act, then we need to be able to support the AU to be able to act," he added.
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Zoellick visits Darfur

On the second day of his trip, after flying from Khartoum to Darfur, Mr. Zoellick toured Abu Shouk camp near El Fasher after briefings by aid organisations.

"The near-term need is to try to ensure these people get food and water and basic supplies. Then you also have to provide the security for them," said Mr. Zoellick, after his visit to the camp.

The final step, he said, would be to "work on a political solution for the overall conflict and allow people to go back so they can return to their traditional lives in their villages."

Mr. Zoellick requested that the Khartoum-based government ease visa restrictions for foreign aid workers trying to get food to relief camps before planting season. There was a pressing need to get more food into the camps and Sudanese officials had agreed to speed up visas for aid workers trying to cope with the crisis.
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Zoellick signals that violence in Darfur is not genocide

On Thursday Mr. Zoellick put pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the violence in Darfur but backed away from the Bush administration's assertion that the mass killings and village burning amounted to genocide.

"I don't want to get into a debate over terminology," he said when asked [at a press conference after meeting Vice-President Taha] if the U.S. believed genocide was still being committed in Darfur against mostly African villagers by Arab militia and their government backers.

He said it was Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, who had "made the point" in his testimony to Congress.

Nonetheless, Mr Zoellick did speak of "crimes against humanity", in line with the findings of a UN commission of inquiry. He said he had emphasised to the Sudanese government the need for accountability through sanctions and legal processes, referring to the UN resolution that sent the issue of Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

Mr Zoellick, also proposed to the government that it start using its own courts and make the process transparent. Read full story by Guy Dinmore, The Financial Times, Khartoum, Apr 15, 2005.

Note, estimates of the numbers of dead from the conflict vary hugely. The Bush administration says 60,000-160,000 people have died from fighting, disease and famine. Aid organisations say that the death toll is closer to 300,000.
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Zoellick fears support for Darfur could ebb

Mr. Zoellick expressed concern on Friday that support for Darfur could ebb before refugees packed into teeming camps to escape violence could return home.

Darfuri civic leaders who met Zoellick in Khartoum on Thursday described a dire situation in their home province.

"All Darfur is a (prison) camp because there is insecurity, starvation," said Mahmoud Mustafa el-Mekki, a senior tribal official.

Madibbo Adam Madibbo, foreign affairs secretary of the Umma Party, Sudan's largest opposition party, said the government could rein in militias blamed for atrocities in Darfur "but are not willing".

Travelling inside Darfur refugee camp

Photo: Internal displaced Sudanese sit on a vehicle with their belongings as they travel inside Abou Shouk camp in Darfur April 16, 2005 where the starvation and armed conflict threaten the lives of millions of people in the arid western Sudanese region. Picture taken April 16, 2005 Reuters/Beatrice Mategwa.

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