- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

AU chief arrives today

NEW YORK — African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare will be in New York today and tomorrow to meet with the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others to negotiate the next steps for a U.N.-backed force in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The AU has deployed about 7,000 peacekeepers in the region, but they are poorly equipped and outnumbered by Sudanese troops and paramilitary units that curtail their movements, as well as the rebel groups fighting the government. Sudanese President Omar Bashir has agreed, in principle, to a beefed-up U.N.-AU hybrid force, but has resisted steps that make its deployment possible.

Seeking to step up the pressure, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte visited Darfur and Khartoum over the weekend, presumably to explain new U.S.-British sanctions against Sudan if the government fails to find a peaceful solution with rebel groups and continues to impede protection efforts.

Sudan’s foreign minister, Lam Akol, scoffed at the threat of increased U.S. sanctions, saying Washington already has imposed them. “They are free to do what they want,” he told reporters in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

An AU officer in al-Fashar, Darfur’s capital, was killed yesterday, hours after Mr. Negroponte visited the AU base there. Gunmen killed three Rwandan soldiers last week.

Meanwhile, the Darfur negotiations are getting an unexpected lift from the 2008 Olympics.

China ‘very helpful’

Beijing will host the Summer Olympics, and China’s government is acutely aware that its human rights record will be under scrutiny. Darfur activists, including actress Mia Farrow, have begun a name-and-shame campaign to link Beijing’s business ties with the Khartoum government to the games, which is making China a far more responsible partner, several Western diplomats at the Security Council have said.

“Don’t knock China on this,” one diplomat said last week. “They have been very helpful lately.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked Britain and the United States for more time to let diplomacy take its course, but Andrew Natsios, the U.S. envoy for Sudan, told him last week that Congress is on its own, and indicated that the White House couldn’t stop Congress if the Bush administration wanted to.

The Darfur fighting has displaced at least 2 million people and killed about 200,000, international sources say. If or when the African Union force is fully in place, Darfur will be protected by 13,000 soldiers and 7,000 civilian police, as well as heavy combat equipment like attack helicopters.

Ban on the go

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will leave tomorrow on an itinerary that will take him from Vatican City to Damascus, Syria.

The Syrian leg of the nine-day trip should be the most interesting. Mr. Ban is scheduled to meet with President Bashar Assad, as well as Cabinet ministers.

The tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other political slayings should top the list of Mr. Ban’s lengthy inquiries. Mr. Ban has sent the top legal adviser of the United Nations, Nicholas Michel, to Lebanon to advise Lebanese leaders on how to ratify the special tribunal despite the country’s deep sectarian divisions, and the U.N. Security Council is considering how forceful a tone it is willing to strike on the matter.

With Hezbollah (the Shi’ite Muslim Party of God) and lawmakers sympathetic to it vehemently opposing an international tribunal to hear the cases, a civil war may hang on the events of the next two weeks.

“I sincerely hope that [Mr. Michel’s] visit will help the political leaders of Lebanon in their efforts to [find] constitutional procedures to ratify, so that the special tribunal can be established as soon as possible,” Mr. Ban told reporters.

“At the same time, I would urge again that the leaders of the Lebanese government engage in all-inclusive political dialogue to promote national reconciliation.” The U.N. secretary-general, on his second trip to the region in his first four months in office, will meet with senior Syrian officials and visit the U.N. Disengagement Force on the Golan Heights.

Security Council ambassadors hope Beirut will find some way to accept the tribunal under domestic law, rather than have it imposed by the United Nations.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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