- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The United States has given Sudan until the end of the year to accept a three-stage U.N. proposal for an international peacekeeping force in Darfur before resorting to a harsher “Plan B,” a senior U.S. envoy said yesterday.

The envoy, Andrew S. Natsios, declined to disclose details of the plan, saying it was classified. But diplomats say that a humanitarian corridor and a no-fly zone over Darfur are some of the measures being considered.

“Making threats is not very useful, but we are going to take a different approach to this in January, and there is a plan to do that,” Mr. Natsios told reporters at the State Department after briefing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on his trip to Sudan last week.

“For us to continue on the process of quiet diplomacy, negotiation and a process to resolve Darfur, then we need progress that’s operational, on the ground in Darfur… by the end of the year,” he said.

Mr. Natsios also said the Bush administration has been working closely with European allies on the fallback plan, although Arab and African countries have yet to be brought on board.

Many Arab governments back U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for a three-stage deployment of a 20,000-strong “hybrid” peacekeeping force that includes troops from the United Nations and African Union, he said.

Mr. Annan sent an envoy to Khartoum yesterday with a letter outlining the stages, and Mr. Natsios said Washington needs an official, written response from the Sudanese government.

The first phase calls for a team of about 100 U.N. military advisers and civilian logistics staff, about 60 of whom are stuck in Khartoum, awaiting permission to go to Darfur. In the second stage, 2,000 troops would be deployed, with the remaining troops arriving in the third phase.

Mr. Annan’s proposal is a compromise after Khartoum’s rejection of a July resolution by the U.N. Security Council calling for a U.N. force to take over from a largely ineffective AU force.

“It is extremely important [to deploy] a robust peacekeeping force that can actually help to end the violence and bring relief to the many innocent men, women and children who are suffering in Sudan,” Miss Rice said yesterday.

The Darfur conflict between mostly non-Arab rebels and government-sponsored militias, which Washington has called genocide, began in 2003. The International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes in the region, where analysts estimate that 200,000 have been killed and more than 2 million displaced.

Recent attacks on Darfur aid workers’ compounds in the town of Gereida have forced the evacuation of 71 staff members and severely restricted humanitarian aid reaching the region’s largest population of war victims, officials said yesterday.

About 20 armed men attacked the South Darfur town on Monday night, seizing a dozen vehicles and communications equipment and almost paralyzing aid operations, according to wire service reports.

“It’s massive and hugely destructive and has severely disrupted aid operations,” said Alun McDonald, spokesman for the British aid organization Oxfam, which had five vehicles stolen and whose compound was fired on during the attack.

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