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Darfur Crisis Escalating, U.S. Envoy Says

February 16, 2007 at 6:35 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Four years after the killing began, the Darfur region of Sudan remains violent and unsettled, and the killing continues. In all, hundreds of thousands have died, and more than 2.5 million are refugees.

In 2004, the Bush administration first labeled the crisis a genocide. A 2006 peace deal came and went. Plans to mobilize a UN peacekeeping force have stalled.

The government-supported Janjaweed militias have continued their marauding, and rebel factions fight one another. Last September, President Bush appointed Andrew Natsios as his special envoy to Sudan. He previously served as USAID administrator. He is a professor at Georgetown University and joins us now.

Welcome to you.

ANDREW NATSIOS, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me start with this situation on the ground. Earlier this week, you were quoted as fearing a “potential new bloodbath,” strong language. What do you see happening?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, the Janjaweed militia, which are the allies of the Sudanese government — they’re the Arab militias, they live in Sudan, in Darfur — are reported to have been asked last October to empty the camps, the displaced camps.

JEFFREY BROWN: Where the refugees live.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Where the refugees, the displaced people are, who fled the massacres in 2003 and ’04. It has not happened yet. I believe that the diplomacy of the United States and the international community has restrained that from happening.

There are elements in the Sudanese government that want a negotiated peace, but there are other elements that think a military solution is the only way out. And we’re trying to convince them a military solution just means more people are going to get killed, and there will be no end to this conflict.

And so our view is there needs to be an immediate negotiation and a cease-fire on the rebel side and on the government’s side.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so to what extent is the government at this point either fomenting or allowing the killing to continue?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, they’re doing some of the killing. The Sudanese military and the Janjaweed burned down a hundred villages — I think it was in November — in the Zaghawa area, because they had a major move against Zaghawa rebels.

There are three rebel movements, three tribes that are the base for the rebellion. One is the Fur tribe. The other is the Zaghawa and the Masalit. And so when they attack the rebels, they also attack villages they come from, and that’s one of the problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it your belief and is it still U.S. policy that genocide is occurring in Sudan?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Because of the nature of the rebellion, the attacks of the Sudanese government have been against the tribes fomenting the rebellion, and they have been massacring people from a particular ethic group. And that is the definition of genocide, when you’re killing noncombatants.

They’re not just directing this against the rebels themselves. The nature of the conflict has changed. Most people lived in villages prior to the war. And most of those people, who are African, who are at risk from those tribes, are now in displaced camps.

The displaced camps have not been attacked. I mean, one has, a little one, four months ago. But in a broad base, they have not launched massive attacks to disperse the camps. And I’m worried — I have been worried since I took over that there are people who would like to do that.

So I think the big risk now is people being enclosed in areas — that’s where you can have massacres, people enclosed in areas, in these camps, are being targeted. It hasn’t happened yet. And I warned the Sudanese government, President Bush has warned them, and so has Secretary Rice. And so far it’s held.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you just used the word “warning.” Now in November, you said at a State Department briefing, “January 1st, we either see a change or we go to Plan B.” Now, what is Plan B exactly? And why has it not been implemented?

ANDREW NATSIOS: When I made those comments, we had — the Security Council of the United Nations has passed Resolution 1706, which is a resolution calling for a UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur.

The Sudanese government completely rejected it, said there will never be one blue helmet in Darfur under any circumstances ever, we’ll go to war before it will happen. And President Bashir made very, very aggressive remarks on that in September.

Since then, Kofi Annan has had a meeting of the Africans, the Europeans, the United States. The Chinese were there, and Arab states were there. And they fashioned a compromise called the Addas Compromise of early November. And that was affirmed by the African Union in Abuja a month later. And that is now the operative plan.

In December, the Sudanese said, “We still aren’t going to allow any blue helmets. You can do all the compromises you want to, but we’re not going to do the blue helmets in Darfur.”

I made an agreement with President Bashir in December that, if we at the UN affirmed the compromise achieved, Addas, we would try to change the policy of his government on blue helmets, and he did. And in mid-January, the Sudanese government allowed a very small number — I think it was 65 — blue helmets for the first time into Darfur.

So we made progress. We’ve made some halting bits of progress. But we are dissatisfied with that, and we’ve told the Sudanese we can’t keep making these little steps. We need to break through.

And, most importantly, not just have blue helmets in Darfur, in a hybrid peacekeeping operation between the African Union and the UN, which is what the compromise achieved in Addas was, what we need now is a negotiated peace between the rebels and the government. Without a negotiated peace, there’s not going to be any end to this.

JEFFREY BROWN: But why not apply more pressure in whatever this Plan B idea would be? You know there are critics, say of Darfur Campaign and others, who say the time to talk has passed. It’s time for to us do more. And there’s been reports about possible financial, economic sanctions. There are proposals to have a, oh, a no-fly zone implemented by NATO or the UN

Why not do something stronger at this point?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, the question is what you want them to do. In other words, you have to connect the sanctions and the aggressive measures we call Plan B with specific changes in their behavior.

And that’s what we’re formulating now in an operational plan. We’re connecting specific things we’d like to achieve with elements of Plan B. We’ve already actually implemented parts of level one of Plan B, done on a smaller scale, and the more aggressive measures we’re going to connect to specific objectives and benchmarks later on.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, would certain things trigger further actions, like the kinds of things that you were talking about fearing, more action against the refugee camps?

ANDREW NATSIOS: That’s correct.

JEFFREY BROWN: That would trigger…

ANDREW NATSIOS: We told the Sudanese already, that if they attacked the camps, than we will go to Plan B, and we’ve made that very clear. It is policy of the U.S. government. I announced it last week in a hearing before the House International Relations Committee.

And so we’ve made that very clear. We’ve also said, if there’s a systemic effort to expel the NGOs and the UN aid agencies that are providing support to people in those camps, there’s going to be a movement to Plan B by the United States government.

We made that clear earlier. I think that’s one reason of several why the Sudanese government has not done that. And so we want to make sure that it’s very clear what we’re expecting and what the consequence will be if we don’t reach that.

But, once again, the only way to resolve this so that the bloodletting is gone and that 2.5 million people can go back to their homes and renew their lives is a negotiated peace. And the Sudanese government took a step yesterday, which was very important to us.

The first two meetings — the rebels have divided into 12 different factions, and some of them are fighting each other. I met with them in August — I’m sorry, I met with them in January in Chad, and I said you’ve got to unite. It’s not for me or the U.S. government to say who your political leader needs to be, but you need to choose someone to negotiate with.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you finally about the role of China here. President Hu Jintao was in Sudan not too long ago. There have been reports that the Chinese quietly, at least, have pushed the Sudanese government to take some action on Darfur.

But then, at the same time, their public statements from the Chinese officials suggest, “That’s not our role. We don’t interfere with the Sudanese government.”

They have important clout there because of their economic ties. Are you satisfied with what they’re doing there? Are they acting in a positive way? Or do you want to see more?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Early in January, I went to Beijing, at President Bush and Secretary Rice’s request. And I spent three days meeting with the Chinese leadership at the most senior level, and we discussed this.

I told them what our objectives were, that we really don’t want confrontation. We’d like a negotiated peace, but the Sudanese were not being cooperative. And they said that they took the same position.

So we are told that President Hu delivered the message to President Bashir that he needs to move along in implementing the UN-A.U. deal agreed to in Addas and a negotiated settlement.

The Chinese are not confrontational. They do not believe in interfering in the internal affairs of any country. And so their worldview is a little different than ours. I still think they can be helpful.

We were disappointed because there were mixed messages, when President Hu announced the palace being loaned for the palace being built in Sudan. It kind of upset all of us here in the United States. It was sort of a mixed message.

But I still think the Chinese can play an important and stabilizing role, because President Bashir is going to listen to President Hu in a way that he might not listen to the rest of us in the West.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Andrew Natsios is the special envoy to Sudan. Thank you very much.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Thank you very much.