Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Save Darfur lobby, a coalition of 180 organizations representing 130 million Americans, is flooding the airwaves with television advertisements and calling on its members to contact the White House and Congress, demanding that the Bush administration do more to end the “genocide” in Sudan.

“It is not that the Bush administration has not done anything, but what the president has done is not enough. No one can argue that what has been done is sufficient. It has not stopped the genocide,” said Alex Meixner, U.S. policy coordinator of Save Darfur.

The coalition specifically wants a freeze on Sudan’s oil revenue, much of which passes through New York banks; an arms embargo; visa and asset restrictions on government officials; and pressure on China to lean on its African ally. Save Darfur also wants U.N. peacekeepers, not U.S. soldiers, on the ground protecting Sudanese civilians.

“The United States needs to pressure Khartoum to stop obstructing the peace process and allow in peacekeepers,” Mr. Meixner said. “Sudan will only do that when there are sufficient punitive measures. It does not have to be military [measures], but it does have to be strongly coercive: diplomacy augmented by punitive measures.”

China has an $8 billion aid, oil and infrastructure investment in Sudan, from which it obtains about 6 percent of its oil. That arrangement provides Sudan with an estimated 60 percent of its income. But the relationship with Sudan is fast becoming an international embarrassment for Beijing as it prepares to host the Olympic Games next year.

“China is getting hammered on this, and it bothers them,” said Stephen Morrison, head of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “China wants to be taken seriously, not as an abettor of war crimes. Sudan is troubling among China’s elites. They certainly don’t want Sudan to become the focus of the 2008 Olympics.”

Mr. Meixner agreed.

“This is an opportunity for China to be out front and show they can be an international leader and save lives,” he said.

Mr. Meixner said Save Darfur is considering how the Olympic Games might be used to pressure China on Sudan, the way the anti-apartheid movement forced change in South Africa.

“There are a number of groups looking at the Olympics and it is certainly something we are looking at,” he said.

The rape, pillaging and mass killing in western Sudan’s Darfur region began in 2003.

The Bush administration first described the situation as “genocide” in September 2004 when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell appeared before a Senate committee. Mr. Meixner said that marked the first time in history that the U.S. government described an ongoing widespread atrocity as “genocide.”

“Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Cambodia, the Holocaust: None of these were recognized as genocide until they were over,” he said. “They say Rwanda was too quick to do anything about, but Darfur has been going on for four years, ample time to do something.”

Despite repeated telephone calls, the State Department did not provide an official to discuss administration efforts on Darfur.

The conflict in Darfur developed at the end of the civil war between northern and southern Sudan. Government soldiers from farming and nomadic herding tribes returned to Darfur, armed to the teeth but frustrated to see the people they had fought in the South reaping the benefits of peace while their tribes got little or nothing. The desperation was exacerbated by a decadelong drought.

Some ex-soldiers began a rebellion after seeing results in the south from challenging the government. The Sudanese government, not wishing to get dragged into another civil war, armed the nomads against the farmers, and the marauding Janjaweed militias were born.

Since the conflict began, an estimated 400,000 people have been killed and more than 3 million made refugees.

Mr. Meixner said the United States contributes about $10 million a month to the African Union’s largely ineffective peacekeeping force of 7,400. That likely would triple if the United Nations gets the 22,500 peacekeepers it has authorized into the region.

Mr. Morrison said the Bush administration’s point man on Darfur, Andrew Natsios, seems to be “hitting his stride” on the issue and the administration has lowered the “regime change” rhetoric.

“If Natsios is empowered and given a mandate, he can get results,” Mr. Morrison said.

Save Darfur said it was encouraged by Mr. Natsios’ work, but it wants more.

“A lot of the people tasked day to day, we think, are doing a pretty good job. Our problem is where this falls as a priority in U.S. foreign policy,” he said.

“With Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Darfur is not on the front burner. It needs to be,” said Mr. Meixner. “We have to stop the genocide and bring peace to Darfur.”

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