Rice tells Sudan cooperate or expect confrontation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Sudan in firm terms on Wednesday it must choose between “cooperation and confrontation” with the rest of the world and accept a UN force for Darfur.

Khartoum’s new military offensive in the western region of Darfur makes international pressure all the more urgent, Rice told the Africa Society in a speech.

“Innocent people are suffering and dying. The humanitarian situation, already tenuous, is at risk of becoming a complete disaster. And the hope of peace is now in danger of collapsing altogether,” she said of Darfur.

“We are not going to sit by and watch this kind of death and destruction continue and we will use whatever tools are necessary, through the UN, to be able to stop that,” she said.

Rice did not specify what these tools might be.

Rice called for an immediate ceasefire between government forces and rebels and said if rebel groups continued to refuse to sign onto the May Darfur peace deal, they would face targeted UN sanctions.

Last month, the United Nations agreed to a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur to augment African troops already there, but Khartoum insists it will not allow them in, equating such a mission to “colonialism”.

“The Sudanese government faces a clear and consequential decision,” said Rice, adding, “this is the choice between cooperation and confrontation.” Rice did not indicate what she meant by “confrontation”.

UN member nations, particularly those offering troops, have made clear they do not want to shoot their way into Darfur, where about 7,000 African Union troops are battling to keep the peace in an area the size of France.

Vague consequences

When asked what Rice meant by this, US special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, also declined to provide specifics, saying it was more diplomatic to leave the consequences vague.

“But we never make idle statements,” said Natsios, who plans to travel to Sudan in the next few weeks.

The African Union force, whose mandate was extended last week until the end of this year, has been unable to stop the violence that has driven 2.5 million people from their homes and killed an estimated 200,000 since 2003.

Aside from the threat of punitive action, the United States has begun dangling the carrot of incentives if Sudan agrees to a UN force, including the promise of reconstruction funds and improved bilateral ties.

“If the government of Sudan chooses cooperation — if it works with the United Nations and welcomes the UN force into Darfur, then it will find a dedicated partner in the United States,” said Rice.

Darfur has become a rallying cry in the United States among a range of religious, political and rights groups and the Bush administration is under strong pressure to act.

The Save Darfur Coalition ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on Wednesday, showing mass graves in Darfur.

“When all the bodies have been buried in Darfur, how will history judge us?” said the headline on the advertisement. 

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