Bush sends ships to Sudan for aid

President Bush yesterday diverted five ships to send immediate U.S. food aid to Sudan and publicly called out Canada, Japan and European nations, telling them to live up to their food-aid promises to the embattled nation.

“The United States has met our commitment, but other major donors have not come through,” Mr. Bush said, adding that the World Food Program was forced last month to cut in half its rations to the African nation because those countries did not meet their commitments.

The president also praised the peace agreement reached last week between the Sudanese government and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), the largest rebel group in the Darfur region, but challenged the government in Khartoum to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in that part of the country.

Mr. Bush said he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the United Nations today to call for a U.N. resolution for peacekeepers.

A U.N. force is operating in the southern part of the country to monitor a 2005 peace agreement, and the U.S. wants that force expanded into the Darfur region in the west. A 7,200-strong African Union peacekeeping force is in Darfur, but the U.N. force would be at least twice that size.

Darfuris felt shut out of the government in Khartoum, and, in 2003, the SLA attacked government forces. The government responded by supporting militia groups and fighting that has killed as many as 200,000. Nearly 1.8 million people have been displaced inside the country.

Sudan has given mixed signals about whether it would welcome the U.N. peacekeeping force, but Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told Mr. Bush in a telephone call yesterday morning that his country would announce soon whether it will accept a U.N. mission. Bush administration officials said they were optimistic.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations, said Mr. Bush and his administration played the pivotal role in securing the peace agreement and in preventing the starvation of thousands of refugees in camps.

“The U.S. made the difference on the Darfur peace talks, more than anyone else, and a lot of it had to do with talking with the rebels, not just talking to and bashing the Bashir government,” he said, crediting Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick’s shuttle diplomacy.

Mr. Smith has visited some of the camps in Sudan and said aid workers told him “it was American aid, first, second and third” that enabled them to feed and care for the refugees.

Rep. Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, called Mr. Bush’s aid announcements and pressure for a U.N. resolution solid steps, but said the peace agreement doesn’t change the situation on the ground much for Darfuris.

Mr. Bush yesterday drew a distinction between the U.S. response in Sudan and comments from al Qaeda terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who released a tape several weeks ago attacking U.S. efforts.

“Once again, the terrorists are attempting to exploit the misery of fellow Muslims and encourage more death. Once again, America and other responsible nations are fighting misery and helping a desperate region come back to life,” Mr. Bush said.

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