Deputy secretary makes third visit to troubled Darfur region
By Charles W. Corey, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - Although the July 9 inauguration of a Government of National Unity (GONU) in Sudan represents an important step in "setting the course," for that country's future, there is a continuing need to "press forward to maintain ... momentum," on a broad range of key issues vital to Sudan's future, says Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick.
Speaking at a press conference July 9 in Khartoum -- where he represented the United States at the GONU inaugural -- Zoellick said, "We need to identify particular problems to try to solve them" throughout Sudan.
On Darfur, Zoellick called the Declaration of Principles an important step. "Equally important is that the NATO alliance is now starting to bring in the African Union Forces [as peacekeepers], first with the Nigerians.
"The United States will start to bring in the Rwandans in mid-July," he said, "so we can expand the overall security presence. And we have been trying to emphasize in Darfur basic humanitarian needs - food, basic health supplies, while expanding the overall security arrangements."
The deputy secretary reminded reporters he had just completed his third trip to the Darfur region where, according to a September 2004 State Department report, "The conflict between the Government of Sudan and two rebel groups ... has precipitated the worst humanitarian and human rights crisis in the world today."
"I tried to visit different parts to see different things and talk to different people," Zoellick said. During those talks, he emphasized the issue of violence against women and suggested some ways in which the new government can try to counter that.
The deputy secretary said that if progress is to be achieved in Darfur, "the goal is not just to end the large-scale violence, but to create a peaceful environment where people can voluntarily return to homes."
Additionally, he said, an overall development strategy must be considered for Darfur, just as one has become part of the North-South Accord, which aims to end a 21-year conflict in Sudan.
While Zoellick admitted that the focus primarily has been on North-South and on Darfur, he said he also had a chance to have discussions about the Eastern region, where it is important that the parties -- both government and those outside the government -- follow the process that has been tried and developed for peace and reconciliation in the North-South context.
Overall, Zoellick called the formation of the new government a very important step.
"This new government of national unity creates a new opportunity for the government of Sudan to take on these challenges in a way that demonstrates its interest in trying to create opportunity for all the people of Sudan: to make sure that the killing stops and make sure that people's needs are taken care of and that the focus of Sudan is on the development and human rights of all its people."
Following his opening remarks, Zoellick answered questions from reporters.
Asked for more about Darfur, he said it remains "a very terrible situation. You go and visit the people -- whether they be in the villages or, in the past trips when I visited the camps -- and your heart cannot help but go out to people....
"The U.N. has reported, and this is the fairest I can give you because they look over the whole region, that the mortality rates have come down somewhat."
Zoellick said he is pleased that the United States and others have been able to provide food and ensure people get the basic necessities.
"But," he warned, "the U.N. report also said it remains a very fragile situation, and that is certainly what I saw yesterday, where in some of the villages people still face the dangers of Jingaweit coming in and shooting over the villages or threatening them if they try to go to the fields."
He praised the presence of African Union peacekeeping forces, saying they have made a "significant difference." Zoellick also said he is pleased that NATO and the European Union have agreed to help.
On the issue of terrorism, Zoellick said "the cooperation with the Sudan on issues of terrorism has improved greatly." He said the United States is "pleased that Sudan has turned from a course" where it was hosting Usama bin Laden in the 1990's, to one where it has recognized the dangers of terrorism.
Concluding, Zoellick said, "I hope that today ... the Government of National Unity, actually gives us an opportunity to try to build. But it is not enough to form a government -- it will also depend on the actions of that government" in the future.
For additional information, see Darfur Humanitarian Emergency and the State Department report Documenting Atrocities in Darfur.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)