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Ambassador Tries to Spur U.N. to Act on Sudan

John C. Danforth, a former U.S. envoy to the African nation, is pushing a resolution threatening sanctions if abuses in Darfur go on.

September 09, 2004|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — John C. Danforth is not surprised that Sudan's government hasn't lived up to its promises to stop the massacres in its country. When he was the Bush administration envoy to Sudan, he got used to Khartoum trying to get by with offering only "half a loaf," he has said.

But as the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., he faces an even tougher adversary in trying to spur action in Sudan: the Security Council.

On Wednesday, Danforth tried a second time to get the Security Council to threaten sanctions against Sudan if the government does not stop abuses in the western region of Darfur, circulating a draft resolution that targets the country's lucrative oil exports.

The council passed a resolution July 30 threatening to consider sanctions if Khartoum did not disarm and prosecute the pro-government militias accused of atrocities, but the 30-day deadline passed without much progress in Sudan or any action by the Security Council.

The new resolution is stronger and more specific, threatening sanctions on the oil industry and against individuals if the government does not rein in the militias. It also demands that Sudan accept more African Union troops to protect civilians and investigate abuses, and that the U.N. create an international commission to determine whether genocide has occurred.

But even before formal negotiations begin today, several countries have objected to the renewed threat of sanctions, leaving Danforth frustrated but determined.

"What I'm trying to achieve is to save people's lives," he said in an interview Wednesday with The Times. "It's as simple as that."

The U.N. described the attacks by the pro-government militias, which have killed more than 30,000 people and driven about 1.3 million from their homes, as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." The U.S. Congress voted to label it "genocide." Danforth calls it a tragedy.

Although the silver-haired former senator is new to the U.N., the issue is one he has been working on since 2001, when President Bush appointed him to work on ending Sudan's long-running civil war. After 18 years in Congress, the process of wrangling a group of people protecting disparate interests into reaching common cause is also familiar. But he is finding that it is certainly not simple.

Pakistan and China abstained from the July 30 resolution, saying that threatening sanctions could alienate the Sudanese government and undermine efforts by the African Union to solve the problem. Several other countries also objected to imposing sanctions, but the resolution passed 13 to 0 after the term was dropped, leaving the threat implicit.

The new resolution also leaves out the actual word, but promises "further action" if the Sudanese government doesn't comply -- a phrase Danforth clearly intends to mean sanctions. "It's not that there's joy in imposing sanctions," Danforth said. "But it's what is left if nothing else works."

Targeting the oil sector will clearly be a stumbling block in the new resolution. Pakistan and China, which import Sudanese oil, see the council move as hurting their economic interests as well as the Sudanese people, at no cost to the U.S. and Europe. American companies have been blocked from the oil trade in Sudan since the U.S. levied sanctions against the country in 1997. Many European oil companies have sold or suspended their interests in the last several years because of intense fighting in the petroleum-rich southern region.

Even U.N. envoy Jan Pronk said Tuesday that sanctions were a last resort whose time had not come. And the countries without oil interests say it is more important to keep momentum behind Khartoum's limited cooperation than to risk its wrath or withdrawal from peace talks.

"Important progress has been made, and there is still much work to do," said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali. "We should keep the government of Sudan engaged so it will fulfill the commitments it has made."

The most promising next step to bring stability to Sudan, Danforth said, is the deployment of more African Union troops.

Three hundred Rwandan and Nigerian troops are in the country protecting about 80 cease-fire monitors. African Union Chairman Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, sent a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday stating the union's intention to send more troops to do "proactive monitoring." The actual number could range from 3,000 to 5,000. Their mandate will be negotiated, but could include protecting refugees, disarming the janjaweed -- as the militias are known -- and assuring the delivery of aid supplies.

"The main thing is to have them actually present, to have outside people there on the ground to watch what the janjaweed are doing and to watch what the government is doing," Danforth said.

Khartoum has been sending mixed messages about whether it would allow the expanded African Union presence, but the resolution implies sanctions if Sudan rejects the troops.

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