Frustrated by the world’s failure to end the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s western Darfur region, some advocacy groups have turned on the new US envoy, accusing him of helping Khartoum thwart peace.
The unusual public censure highlights a growing divide on Darfur. One side are those who feel more engagement with and less criticism of Khartoum is needed to end the suffering in Darfur. On the other are those who support more pressure, more sanctions and possibly military action if Sudan blocks efforts to secure peace in the region.
The Darfur conflict has been going on for more than six years. The UN says as many as 300 000 people have died since 2003, compared to Khartoum’s official death toll of 10 000. The world body also says some 4.7 million people in Darfur rely on aid to survive.
In an open letter to US President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General Scott Gration, actress Mia Farrow and other activists said that Gration’s strategy with Sudan was prolonging the crisis.
“We believe that your conciliatory stance and reluctance to criticize (Khartoum) both excuses and emboldens (it), thereby facilitating its ongoing reign of terror and well-known strategy of ‘divide and rule,'” the letter said.
Gration has advocated loosening some US sanctions against Sudan to enable Washington to deliver development aid to southern Sudan ahead of a 2011 referendum, after which it is expected to split from the north. He also has said there was nothing to justify keeping Sudan on the US terror blacklist.
Gration says he needs to engage the governments of north and south Sudan, rebel groups and other key parties to revive the stalled Darfur peace talks and to ensure the north-south civil war does not erupt again. But he also supports keeping up the pressure including most sanctions on Khartoum.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group, also was critical of Gration. He described his deep disappointment at what he felt has been the Obama administration`s failure through Gration to take the tough line on Sudan that Obama supported as a US senator.
“It is shocking to all of us (activists) to see what has transpired over the last couple of months publicly,” he told Reuters in an interview. “And frankly it is shocking to the people of Darfur and southern Sudan.”
US policy review
Not all activists focused their criticism on Gration.
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, an umbrella organization for more than 180 groups, said the real problem was how long it was taking the Obama administration to decide what to do about Sudan.
“General Gration is not the issue so much as the administration’s failure to finish the policy review and make clear what their strategy for Sudan is,” he told Reuters.
The results of a sweeping US government policy review on Sudan are expected to be released soon, possibly this month. UN diplomats and analysts say the US is the key player on Sudan and can offer as an incentive something the Sudanese really want, normal relations with Washington.
The UN participates in a joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur that has been slow to deploy because of bureaucratic obstacles created by Khartoum and lack of military hardware. But Washington, and not the UN, may hold the key to peace in Sudan, the diplomats say.
Prendergast said that in the “vacuum” created by the delay of the policy review Gration has adopted a strategy of “constructive engagement” with Khartoum, similar to the US approach to apartheid South Africa when Ronald Reagan was president.
But he said Gration had done so without a mandate.
He also criticized Gration for not publicly describing Darfur as “genocide” as Obama himself has.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Gration said he has been reaching out to the Darfur activist community, speaking regularly with its key members. He said he generally agreed with the activists on what they hope to achieve in Sudan.
He cited a July 29 letter to Obama from the Save Darfur Coalition. It said Sudan must be ordered to bring peace to Darfur, implement the 2005 peace deal that ended a 22-year civil war between the north and south and replace President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the ICC.
If Khartoum does that, the letter says “a clear process toward normalization of relations with the US will be mapped out.” If not, then more sanctions and possibly “targeted military action” should be used to save civilian lives.
“Everything in that letter is what I’m trying to do,” Gration said, adding that it was important that the advocacy groups and US government work together on Sudan.
“This is a situation where everybody’s got to be on the same team working forward,” he said.
Fabienne Hara of the International Crisis Group, an independent think-tank that focuses on wars and conflicts, said some of the activists were “out of touch with reality” and that Gration’s decision to step up engagement with Khartoum was a welcome and much-needed change in the US approach to Sudan.
Pic: Darfur insurgents