US says pressure must be maintained on Sudan

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Sudan’s “history” of backsliding on commitments means that sanction pressure must be maintained, despite its acceptance of a planned larger peacekeeping force for Darfur.Rice made the comments at a conference hosted by France to push forward peace efforts in the ravaged Sudanese region.

The UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, insisted at the meeting that “slow but credible and considerable progress” has recently been made to resolve the crisis.

But Rice said pressure needs to be maintained on the government of Sudanese President Omar Bashir.

“Sudan has a history of agreeing to things and then trying to condition or change them or to backtrack and say ‘Well no, we didn’t really agree to that,”‘ Rice said.

“We have lost a lot of time while agreements have been made that have not been kept. We can no longer afford a situation in Darfur where agreements are made and not kept.” She added: “Until Sudan has actually carried out the commitments it’s taken, I think we have to keep the possibility of consequences on the table.” More than 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have become refugees since 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan’s government is accused of unleashing in response a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed — a charge Sudan denies.

The United Nations and Western governments pressed Sudan for months to accept a plan for a large joint force of UN and African Union peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed 7,000-strong African force now in Darfur.

Sudan initially accepted the plan in November but then backtracked, before finally agreeing earlier this month.

But many questions remain on how and when the troops will be deployed and how they will be funded.

“There are already (AU) soldiers in Darfur. But these soldiers are badly equipped, they are not paid. We are not going to make progress by increasing the number of soldiers who are unpaid,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged an additional $13.4 million to the existing cash-strapped African Union force. His five-week-old government has made the four-year conflict in Darfur a priority. Spain also pledged $13.5 million with half for the hybrid force and the rest for humanitarian aid. The EU’s development chief, Louis Michel, said it was preparing 40 million in additional humanitarian aid.

Sarkozy, speaking to the conference delegates before their meeting, decried the world’s inactivity on Darfur and called for a firm stance against “belligerents who refuse to join the negotiating table.” “Silence is killing,” he said. “The lack of decision and the lack of action is unacceptable.” Conference attendee China, viewed as a power broker in Sudan, again came out against sanctions and argued against appeals by some critics for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to force China to get tough with Khartoum.

“Now is not the time to talk about further sanctions,” said China’s special envoy for Sudan, Liu Giujin. He said any attempted link to the Beijing Olympics was “really unfounded. The basic character of the Olympics is nonpolitical.” Asked by reporters whether the Chinese oil industry’s involvement in Sudan kept Beijing from coming down hard, Liu said: “That’s baseless, that’s unfounded.” Sudan was not invited to the one-day conference, attended by 18 countries, UN Secretary General Ban, the European Union and others. Officials from the Sudanese government in Khartoum had said the meeting could backfire and cause more harm than good.

Notable absentees, other than Sudan, included the AU and neighbouring Chad, which has seen an influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Darfur and is a key conduit for aid.

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