WASHINGTON, Oct 4 – US non-governmental organisations are pressing President Barack Obama to launch a new peace initiative for Darfur, as they express concern about the approach being taken by US envoy Scott Gration.
The administration began a review of US policy towards Sudan in March, but has yet to release the results, despite promising in August that they would be announced shortly.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the issue of Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan, cannot be considered in isolation from a separate conflict between the country’s north and south, which is threatening to flare up again, after several years of peace.
The White House has, however, been far from silent on the subject.
Obama referred to the "genocide in Darfur" in his speech before Ghana’s parliament in July, and early in his term he named a special envoy to Sudan, retired general Gration.
Since his appointment, Gration has made multiple trips to the region, seeking to unify the rebel chiefs in Darfur so they will have greater weight in any eventual peace talks.
Sam Bell, the executive director of the Genocide Intervention Network, said he supports the approach.
"It’s very difficult, it hasn’t worked yet, but it’s a key element of peace in Darfur," he told AFP.
But, more broadly, Bell fears that the United States does not "have the right strategy" on Darfur, and he warns that the "status quo plays in favour of the government" of Sudan’s President Omar Bashir.
The group wants Obama to take action and renew pressure on the regime by coming up with a peace initiative, which would include countries with sway in the region such as Egypt and China, and could eventually lead to a tentative peace deal.
Since his nomination, Gration has made some risky moves, indicating some openness towards Bashir – who is the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for war crimes – and expressing support for the easing of 12-year-old sanctions against Sudan.
Some US non-governmental groups judge that approach ill-advised, pointing out that around 2.7 million Darfur residents are still struggling to survive in dire conditions in refugee camps.
The groups were also concerned by an article that appeared in the Washington Post this week, detailing Gration’s most recent trip to Sudan.
The US emissary is described frequently as naive, too inclined to believe the government in Khartoum, and overconfident about the possibility of dialogue with the regime.
Interviewed for the article, he also attributed the refusal of many refugees to leave their camps and return home to "psychological stuff," prompting outrage from groups involved with Darfur.
"It’s incredibly offensive," said John Norris, director of the Enough Project, said in a statement. "People aren’t going home because they fear being killed, raped and robbed."
"If Washington is going to start taking war criminals at their word, despite the long list of Khartoum’s broken commitments, an even larger tragedy will unfold," warned Bell, of the Genocide Intervention Network.
Since 2003, the conflict in Darfur has left 300,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The Sudanese government puts the figure at 10,000.