- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick said yesterday that Sudan’s new unity government must exert stronger pressure to curb the violence and human suffering in the country’s war-torn Darfur region.

Mr. Zoellick told a House International Relations Committee hearing that the United States had “zero tolerance” for further human rights abuses in Darfur, but African troops — not U.S. or NATO forces — must take the lead in containing violence there.

The department’s No. 2 diplomat also criticized the United Nations for not seconding a U.S. determination last year that government-backed attacks by Arab militias on the largely black African Darfur population amounted to genocide.

“The definition of the United States of the human suffering in Darfur is ‘systematic genocide.’” Mr. Zoellick said, noting that a subsequent U.N. investigation defined the suffering in Darfur only as “crimes against humanity.”

The establishment of a unity government in Khartoum after nearly 20 years of fighting between the government and separatists in the south raised new hopes that a similar deal could end the violence in Darfur, in western Sudan.

Two years of brutal fighting between Darfur rebels and government-backed, Arab-dominated militias have left an estimated 180,000 dead and 2 million homeless.

Mr. Zoellick told lawmakers that John Garang, the leader of the southern rebel forces who has joined the unity government as vice president, should play a key role in mediating the Darfur crisis.

Mr. Zoellick faced sharp questioning from several lawmakers over whether the United States and NATO should be involved more directly in halting the fighting in Darfur.

The African Union has sent about 1,800 troops to the region to provide humanitarian aid and try to contain the violence. Mr. Zoellick said that, given the record of Western colonial powers in the region, Sudan had a high degree of “sensitivity” to the presence of U.S. or NATO forces.

“Lessons learned from the past experiences, as in Somalia, showed us this kind of military action might end up in a further conflict, and it would be viewed as a non-African intervention,” he said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, said she detected a shift in U.S. policy toward the authoritarian regime in Sudan given the recent cooperation between Washington and Khartoum on counterintelligence and counterterrorism issues.

“I’m hearing that there are discussions with regard to the lifting of sanctions against the regime,” said Miss Lee, who told Mr. Zoellick that genocide still was occurring in Darfur.

But Mr. Zoellick said the administration had no plans to lift economic and other sanctions on Sudan, saying the government in Khartoum first must improve its record on human rights.

Mr. Zoellick said the ultimate aim of U.S. policy was a unified, democratic and peaceful Sudan.

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