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Latest News Last Updated: Oct 27, 2009 - 9:33:43 PM

Sudan's Leaders Brace for U.S. Shift
Sudaneseonline.com

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Sudan's Leaders Brace for U.S. Shift
Obama Team Seen As Tough on Darfur

By Stephanie McCrummen and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 8, 2008; A01

 

NAIROBI -- If the election of Barack Obama has been greeted with glee across much of Africa, there is at least one spot where the mood is decidedly different.

In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region.

"Compared to the Republicans, the Democrats, I think they are hawks," said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People's Liberation Movement, which has a fragile power-sharing agreement with the ruling party. "I know Obama's appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush."

While the Bush administration most recently advocated the idea of "normalizing" relations with Sudan as a carrot approach to ending a crisis it labeled a genocide, Obama's foreign policy appointees have pushed for sticks.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state, has called for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone to "blanket" Darfur in order to prevent Sudanese bombing of villages. The appointee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice -- a key Africa adviser to the Clinton administration during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when President Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for failing to act -- has pushed for U.S. or NATO airstrikes and a naval blockade of Sudan's major port to prevent lucrative oil exports. Rice has vowed to "go down in flames" advocating tough measures.

Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was chosen for his foreign policy experience and pressed early for U.S. intervention to stop the fighting in the Balkans, was blunt during a hearing last year: "I would use American force now," he said.

But it remains unclear how those pre-election views will square with the president-elect, who has outlined a pragmatic, coalition-based approach to foreign policy, while also speaking of America's "moral obligation" in the face of humanitarian catastrophes of the sort that are plentiful in Africa.

Heading off potential genocide is the focus of a task force report to be released today in Washington. The group recommends, among other things, that the Obama administration create a high-level forum in the White House to direct the government's response to threats of mass violence.

So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. "help." He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.

Obama intends to keep Bush's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO's role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.

And specialists close to Obama's presidential campaign said that more generally, the new administration sees a need for diplomatic approaches to security crises across the continent.

"We don't have the capacity to pacify these places militarily," said John Prendergast, a Darfur activist and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, citing Sudan and the worsening conflicts in Congo and Somalia. "We need political solutions."

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, dismissed the calls for military action as "only election slogans."

"You cannot claim to be disengaging from disasters like Iraq but creating a new disaster in one of Africa's biggest countries," he said.

The crisis is in many ways a far more complex conflict than the one the Bush administration confronted. The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two rebel groups attacked Sudan's Islamic government, claiming a pattern of bias against the region's black African tribes. Khartoum organized a local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to wage a scorched-earth campaign against the three ethnic groups -- mostly farmers and traders -- thought to be the rebels' political base.

Some analysts estimate that as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict. About half the population of the Darfur region -- about 2.5 million people -- are now displaced.

But most of that damage occurred during the first two years of the conflict.

Since then, the rebel factions have splintered into dozens of groups who have so far been unable to translate their anger at the government into a political platform for negotiations. And the sides are more fluid now, with fighting among various Arab tribes and rebel factions displacing more people this year than government bombings.

Some analysts and Sudanese observers with no love for the government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir worry that Obama's administration may try to impose a military solution that might have worked at the height of the killing in 2004 and 2005, but not anymore.

"Things have changed dramatically since 2004," said a senior U.N. political officer in Khartoum, who asked not to be identified so that he could speak more freely. "The kind of conflict we have now is really a low-intensity conflict with high-intensity political ramifications. So all of this posturing of a military solution, or a no-fly zone, it's not going to work."

"But," he said, "Obama is going to be pragmatic in Iraq and other places, and Sudan will be the place he shows his toughness. It's not necessarily good for the strategic outcome of the situation."

The U.N. official and others said that military intervention could have dangerous consequences for Sudan as a whole, as well as the nine countries bordering it.

As venal as many consider Bashir's government to be, it did sign a landmark peace deal that ended a long and bloody civil war between the north and south. If Bashir's government is destabilized, that deal could fall apart, plunging another huge swath of the country into war.

Military intervention could also run the risk of inflaming the Islamists who have been key supporters of Bashir's government, which once hosted Osama bin Laden. In 1998, the Clinton administration bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in part because its owners were thought to have ties to bin Laden.

"Any destabilization of this government and all these Islamist elements will certainly turn into a dangerous force," said Saswat Fanous, a political science professor in Khartoum and ruling party lawmaker. "They will be driven underground, and they will invite in a flood of radical Islamists coming from the region into Sudan."

The U.N. official shared that concern. The conflict in Darfur is just one of many over the past 20 years that essentially pit those in the center against those in the marginalized periphery, he said. The problem at hand is how to build a politically stable, democratic Sudan that shares power broadly among southerners, Darfurians and residents of other regions.

"As revolting as this government may be, they are indispensable to solving the problem of Sudan," the official said. "They are part of the problem and part of the solution. If the Obama administration is going to be driven by anger, then really, really it is going to be tragic, naive politics."

But an Obama campaign adviser who worked closely on the candidate's Africa positions said the naive move would be to think it is possible to trust Bashir's regime, which has a long history of broken promises and is highly unpopular across much of Sudan.

The adviser noted that the government only signed the deal with the south after the U.S. helped push it into a corner by indirectly arming the southern rebels. Eventually, the government realized it could not win.

Accountability should also be part of any long-term political settlement in Sudan, the adviser said; the leaders who orchestrated the campaign in Darfur must face their misdeeds, he said, even if that comes several years late.

"If we accept the notion that the brutality we've witnessed from this regime over the past two decades is acceptable to bring about temporary stability, then shouldn't we have done the same for the Nazis in Germany?" said the adviser, who was instructed not to speak to the news media.

Obama is likely to face choices on Sudan soon, as judges at the International Criminal Court are expected to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Obama has pledged to increase U.S. cooperation with the Hague-based court and is expected to honor an arrest warrant for Bashir.

But the adviser said that military options, including covert operations and regime change, are likely to remain under serious discussion in the new administration.

"These people have been in power for almost 20 years " the adviser said. "I doubt that the majority of Sudanese would cry if they were ousted."

Lynch reported from New York


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  • Khartoum Environment Declaration to be signed during Nile Basin Development Forum
  • Taha to address International Youth Forum in Khartoum
  • Albashir Violates his Unilateral Ceasefire in less than 72 Hours
  • THE WASHINGTON DECLARATION
  • Russia sells 12 fighter jets to Sudan: reports
  • ICC prosecutor seeks warrants in third Darfur probe
  • Documentary brings awareness to Sudanese conflict
  • Libyan, Sudanese women discuss cooperation
  • Sudan: Darfur Arrest Warrants Sought
  • Sudan Economic Growth to Slow After Oil Plunges More Than Half
  • SA soldier killed in Sudan laid to rest
  • Sudan: Russian Fighter Jets Purchased
  • African Union chief calls for fresh Darfur peace talks
  • US commends Chad, Sudan for resuming diplomatic ties
  • Sudan Supports Russian Actions in Caucasus
  • Sudan faces tax rise as oil price falls: minister
  • 'Sudan People's Initiative' Calls for Ceasefire; President Declares it Immediately and Unconditionally
  • SUDAN: Cautious optimism over Darfur ceasefire call
  • President Bashir and his Eritrean counterpart underline keenness to achieve peace in the Sudan
  • Dr Obied: the visits of the Eritrean president to the Sudan was successful and achieved positive results
  • UN Secretary General welcomes President Al-Bashir declaration of cease-fire in Darfur
  • Sudan Embassy in Nairobi issues press release on the recommendations of the Forum of the People of Sudan
  • Leader received Sister Assistant Secretary of the Sudanese Umma party2008
  • Doubts raised over Sudanese President's ceasefire in Darfur
  • Sudan cease-fire call gets wary reception in Darfur
  • President Afwerki Sends Message to First Vice - President Salva Kiir
  • President Al-Bashir Affirms Continuation of Work in Implementation of Western Salvation Highway
  • Deputy Chairperson of AU Commission says Forum of People of Sudan strong basis for solving Darfur problem
  • IFC explores investment opportunities in S Sudan
  • Sudan's president announces ceasefire in Darfur
  • President Al-Bashir receives recommendations and decisions of National Forum of the People of Sudan for solving Darfur problem
  • President Al-Bashir Affirms Government Commitment to Negotiate for Reaching Peaceful Solution for Darfur Issue
  • President Al-Bashir Declares Immediate Cease-Fire in Darfur
  • Eritrean President arrives in Khartoum on official visit
  • Economic Sector approves Budget of Fiscal 2009
  • Egypt seeks to postpone Bashir extradition
  • Sudanese investors to put up a five-star hotel in Uganda
  • Momma Chol Helps Sudanese Refugees Cross 'Bridge' to US Society
  • Aussies honour war dead in Sudan
  • UAE planes to bring relief to Sudan's flood victims
  • Sudan civil war survivor to students: Never give up
  • Sudan should call new Darfur ceasefire - forum
  • President Al-Bashir to Receive Final Report of Forum of the People of Sudan on Darfur
  • President Al-Bashir to open new establishments in University of West Kordofan Tuesday
  • President Mubarak affirms in joint press conference in Juba with Salva Kiir Egypt's keenness on making unity attractive
  • Forum of the People of Sudan Approves its Final Report in Historic Sitting
  • President Al-Bashir briefed on Egypt's efforts to convince Khalil Ibrahim to resort to the negotiation table
  • One local Central Coast synagogue donates money to Sudanese refugees
  • Mubarak in Sudan to discuss Beshir genocide accusation
  • Sudanese refugee to speak at SCSU about experience, turmoil, war
  • Mubarak in Sudan for talks on Darfur crisis
  • Chad, Sudan resume relations
  • President Al-Bashir honours Ambassador of Greece on completion of his posting to Sudan
  • National Forum of People of Sudan to hold concluding session Wednesday
  • Minister of Justice brified on ICRC activities in Sudan
  • Sudan, Chad swap ambassadors six months after rift
  • Kenya to train South Sudan civil servants
  • Chad Ambassador Returns to Khartoum and Sudan Ambassador Leaves for N'djamena
  • President Al-Bashir Appreciates Distinguished Relations between Sudan and Qatar
  • A workshop for francophone African countries for the benefit of BADEA's Focal Points and Desk Officers
  • Chad notifies Sudan on arrival of its ambassador Sunday to assume his work
  • President Saleh receives letter from Sudanese counterpart
  • Sudanese Delegation Scouts for Support
  • Hundreds of thousands follow Sudan funeral
  • Darfur rebels shun conference, seek direct talks
  • Sudan bans two newspapers over protest
  • International Islamic Parliamentarians Forum Affirms its Solidarity with Sudan concerning False Allegations of ICC Prosecutor
  • Sudanese people initiative forum wound session on Wedneday
  • Taha calls for alternative international Islamic economic system
  • Chairman of African Union Fact-Finding Committee Affirms its Commitment to Contribute to Normalization of Sudanese - Chadian Relations