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No Peace Plan for Sudan Is in Place, U.S. Envoy Says

Africa: John C. Danforth asserts that only the nation's people can end its civil war. He offers four ideas for building confidence between sides.

November 15, 2001|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KHARTOUM, Sudan — On his first trip to Sudan as President Bush's special envoy, former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth said Wednesday that he will know by January whether the United States can play a role in helping to put an end to Africa's longest-running civil war.

After meeting with the country's top leaders, Danforth said the United States had no comprehensive peace plan to offer the Sudanese, whose conflict has claimed more than 2 million lives in the last 18 years.

Instead, the former Republican senator from Missouri said, the United States was proposing four major ideas to alleviate civilian suffering and build confidence in Sudan.

According to Danforth, the Bush administration wants an overall agreement to establish zones and periods of time in which humanitarian efforts can take place; a stop to the bombing of civilians; a halt to the abduction and enslavement of southern Sudanese, many of whom are Christians; and the ensuring of access for relief workers to the war-ravaged Nuba mountains in the south-central part of the country.

Danforth's statements offered the first hint of the extent to which the Bush administration intends to intervene in the brutal civil war, and will almost certainly lead to criticism that the peace efforts do not go far enough.

"It would be nice if someone could breeze in and solve problems," he told local and foreign journalists at the U.S. Embassy here. "But the only people that could end the war are the people of Sudan."

Bush appointed Danforth on Sept. 6 to help mediate a war that pits Sudan's Muslim government in the north against militias in the mainly Christian and animist south.

Critics of the Bush administration charge that the Sept. 11 terror attacks have largely marginalized Danforth's mission to help mediate the conflict. After the assaults, Sudan, which once served as an operating base for Osama bin Laden, sought to rehabilitate its image, opening its intelligence files to U.S. investigators and arresting dozens of suspects linked to terror networks.

Danforth said Wednesday that Sudan's cooperation in Washington's war on terrorism was "highly valued and appreciated." But he insisted that U.S. peace efforts in Sudan were an independent initiative.

"It's obvious that bilateral relations between the United States and Sudan would greatly improve if peace were accomplished," he said.

Over two days, Danforth met with Sudanese President Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and his top advisors about stopping the war. He described the talks as "good" but said that "results are what counts."

Danforth also said that he told Bush he would accept the job for a year. By the end of January, he said, he will know whether "I'm involved in something that's useful, or whether there's not sufficient will in [Sudan] to do something that's positive."

Earlier Wednesday, Raymond Brown, a Watts native who is the U.S. charge d'affaires in Khartoum, escorted Danforth on a tour of refugee camps holding some of the 4 million Sudanese displaced by the civil war.

Danforth's convoy of sport-utility vehicles drove miles of dusty roads lined by huts built with mud and donkey manure. He visited a church, a few ramshackle schools and some clinics operated by aid agencies.

On one stop, a group of school children sang to Danforth: "Give peace a chance. Why are we fighting each other?"

Danforth and a small entourage of U.S. officials leave today for southern Sudan. Later in the week, he will meet separately with top Kenyan officials and John Garang, the main Sudanese rebel leader, who lives in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

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