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Sudanese Envoy, Bush Aide on Darfur Crisis

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Well today, signs of possible movement on that. Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he hoped that tomorrow he will get a green light from Sudan's president for a ceasefire and that President Bashir will approve a joint force of African Union and U.N. peacekeepers.

KOFI ANNAN: I do fervently hope that we are now at last close to rescuing the people of Darfur from their agony but after so many disappointments, I must say I take nothing for granted.

BLOCK: It has been more than two years since the U.S. government declared the bloodshed in Darfur a genocide.

COLIN POWELL: We concluded, I concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.

BLOCK: The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur have been unable to stop the fighting. The idea, from the U.S. and the U.N., has been add U.N. peacekeepers, thousands more of them. Up until now, the Sudanese government has flatly rejected U.N. involvement and when I spoke with the Sudanese charge d'affaires in Washington, John Lueth Ukec, he outlined only a limited U.N. role.

JOHN LUETH UKEC: Significant support from the U.N. in terms of money, logistics, communications and transportation particularly helicopters that would make the African Union peacekeeping force very mobile. So I'm looking forward toward the middle of 2008 most of our civilians will go back to their villages and we may even increase the number of African peacekeeping force by that time to protect villages until they have confidence of peace and stability.

BLOCK: You keep talking about an African Union force with support from the U.N. but the U.N.'s idea is very different from that. It's that there would actually be U.N. peacekeepers, more of them in fact, along with the AU troops, the African Union troops that are already there.

LUETH UKEC: I think progress will be in that direction.

BLOCK: But I just want to be clear that I understand what you're saying. Would there actually be not just technical support, not just logistical support, but U.N. peacekeepers operating under a U.N. mandate in Darfur?

LUETH UKEC: My government has not given me the last word on that yet. I cannot answer that.

BLOCK: Not only is the Sudanese government's position on peacekeepers different from that of the international community but its version of what is happening in Darfur is different as well. Ambassador Ukec told me Sudan's government does not condone the war.

LUETH UKEC: We in the government of national unity do not allow any fighting to take place in Darfur.

BLOCK: Well, why is the Sudanese air force launching air strikes over Darfur, then?

LUETH UKEC: It should be the government of Sudan is fighting the rebels, the rebels who have not signed the peace agreement. And the rebels are attacking our defensive situations and they are doing that in self defense.

BLOCK: In self defense?

LUETH UKEC: In self defense.

BLOCK: I'm curious about your perception of the war in Darfur. The United Nations has said the death toll in the last three years is at least 200,000. Many groups put it at far higher than that. Your government says it's barely 9,000. What is your position on that?

LUETH UKEC: I don't think we are experts or statisticians to determine the number of deaths. My opinion is 9,000 is too many people. I believe United States went to war with the Taliban and al-Qaida because of the 3,000 and something people killed in World Trade Center and for Sudanese to lose 9,000, it's a lot more terrible. I'm not in a position of talking about numbers but I believe a large number of people might have died.

BLOCK: Might have died?

LUETH UKEC: Yes.

BLOCK: You're not convinced that they have?

LUETH UKEC: No, I am saying I'm not an expert in statistics.

BLOCK: The reporting that we see here paints a pretty clear picture, which is that especially refugees in the camps are telling this story: that they're attacked by Janjaweed and that the Janjaweed are backed by the Sudanese government. Do you think that is a true picture of what's going on?

LUETH UKEC: I cannot comment about that because I have no details about it but we allowed the African peacekeeping force to go in because we found out there are these bandits, we call them bandits or Janjaweed, as the media called them. They were attacking people and we are not going to deny that it is not happening. It does. And because we are unable to stop them, that is why we allowed the African peacekeeping force to help us with it.

BLOCK: The claim is, though, that those Janjaweed are only able to do what they're doing because they are armed, supported, get air support from your government in Sudan.

LUETH UKEC: My current government of national unity is not doing that. If it happened during the - prior to comprehensive peace agreement, then I am not an expert on that because I was not there. I was not with the government nor was I with the rebels in Darfur.

BLOCK: Let me ask you about one other thing here. A few things have been mentioned in the West as possible repercussions if your government does not allow peacekeepers. One would be a no-fly zone over Darfur. Another might be freezing assets or preventing travel of Sudanese officials or helping the International Criminal Court file indictments. What do you say to people who say that those are possible options?

LUETH UKEC: No government would like to see a no-fly zone in his or her jurisdiction. You know, it's going to be a problem of sovereignty of the country and I don't think it will solve the problem because what we need in Sudan now is not hostility but a way to get out of this crisis in Darfur peacefully.

BLOCK: Ambassador Ukec, thanks very much for talking with us.

LUETH UKEC: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: We played his remarks for Andrew Natsios, who was named President Bush's special envoy to Sudan in September. Natsios says the Sudanese government should step up.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, it's their country. I mean, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed this fall a very important statement and what it says is the government of the country where a conflict's taking place first responsibility is to protect its own people and if it does not do that, then the international community is going to do it.

BLOCK: But in this case, it's not just that the Sudanese government isn't protecting its people, it's that it's actively...

NATSIOS: It's causing the problem in the first place.

BLOCK: Yes. Then you agree with that?

NATSIOS: Absolutely.

BLOCK: Do you think the Sudanese government really has any interest in negotiating a settlement or is what they want a military solution, destroy the opposition?

NATSIOS: So some of the Janjaweed commanders are saying enough is enough. And I think the government really is at risk of losing control of the situation.

BLOCK: When you and I talked in September, I asked you then how long you would give what you called aggressive diplomacy to work and you said it would be weeks or maybe months.

NATSIOS: Right.

BLOCK: And it's been months now. What's the way forward? Why is diplomacy still even on the table?

NATSIOS: So there's a direct connection between phase one, phase two and three. You can't accept one phase and not the other phases. It doesn't work.

BLOCK: Well, that to me doesn't sound like progress, and when Condoleezza Rice says, as she did on Wednesday, we have a new chapter ahead of us, doesn't sound to me like there's a new chapter at all.

NATSIOS: Now, how that's going to work? We're not going to know until we read the letter. If we don't have some progress this week, then there's going to be a review in January of our strategy and we will make a decision at that point what to do.

BLOCK: Andrew Natsios, thanks for being with us.

NATSIOS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Andrew Natsios is President Bush's special envoy for Sudan. He was speaking about efforts to resolve the crisis in Darfur. We also heard from Sudan's charge d'affaires in Washington, John Lueth Ukec. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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