The Obama administration intends to remove Sudan from a U.S. terrorist blacklist regardless of progress in the conflict-riddled province of Darfur. The move is likely to anger some members of Congress and human rights activists.
The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (DPAA) requires the government of Sudan to resolve the conflict in Sudan’s western province before the nation can be removed from the terrorism list.
“The Obama administration, for the purposes of this designation, will delink this listing from Darfur,” a senior U.S. official told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
“We have told the Sudanese that what we intend to do is to waive the application of the DPAA in this regard should they fulfill all requirements of the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005],” he added.
The peace pact ended two decades of civil war between the Muslim north and the largely Christian and animist south. About 2 million people were killed in the fighting.
However, some members of Congress are still worried about the continuing violence in Darfur between pro-government Arab militias and rebel groups.
“People on the Hill are still concerned about the situation in Darfur, but the referendum has taken a lot of oxygen out of that debate,” said a congressional source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak with the media.
Southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession in a referendum last month. Sudanese President Omar Bashir has said he will respect their choice.
Gen. Bashir is the subject of an International Criminal Court indictment over alleged war crimes in Darfur.
On Tuesday, the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders said renewed fighting in North Darfur state over the past two months has forced thousands of families to flee from their villages.
“The United States removed a number of restrictions imposed on Sudan last September. The removal of the remaining sanctions should be linked to lasting peace in Darfur, justice and accountability, and resolution of all outstanding issues, including Abyei,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat and co-chairman of the congressional caucus on Sudan.
The oil-rich province of Abyei is a key flash point in Sudan.
A human rights activist who has been working on issues related to the conflict in Darfur said in a phone interview that the Obama administration will give away key leverage on the Khartoum government by removing Sudan from the terror list before the fighting has ended. The activist spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concern for his safety because he is currently in Sudan.
After much internal and external deliberation, the Obama administration offered a two-part deal to the Bashir government in Khartoum.
First, if Sudan implements and respects all provisions of the peace agreement and is found not to be supporting terrorist groups, it will be taken off the terrorism sponsor list. Second, if it ensures peace in Darfur, U.S. sanctions will be lifted.
“This is a fair and balanced approach,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group based in Washington.
“The referendum results aren’t being traded against human rights in Darfur. For the relationship to be normalized between the U.S. and Sudan, both Darfur and the north-south issues must be addressed,” he added.
Mr. Prendergast said the Sudanese government should understand that if it doesn’t comply with either of these tracks, activist groups will push very hard for stiff consequences.
The Darfur peace act requires the president of the United States to certify that there has been progress in Darfur before Sudan is taken off the list of state sponsors of terror.
President Obama this week called for an end to attacks on civilians in Darfur and a “definitive end to that conflict.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, has asked Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper for an intelligence community assessment of Sudan’s support for terrorist activities.
Recent assessments have found that Sudan has not been sponsoring terrorism in recent years.
“Congress should not have tried to put Darfur into the mix of state sponsors of terror,” said Jendayi Frazer, who served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs under former President George W. Bush. “Taking Sudan off the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list is a technical decision and should remain a technical decision.”
Mr. Payne said he had no objection to removing Sudan from the terrorism list provided Sudan continues counterterrorism cooperation and prevents terrorist groups from using its territory.
Mr. Obama has the option of issuing an executive order taking Sudan off the list.
Recent assessments have shown that Sudan has been cooperating with the U.S. on counterterrorism.
“But there was a feeling that it would be hard to justify its removal from the terror list while violence continued in Darfur,” the congressional source said.