Bush sends his top Africa diplomat to Sudan
WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) President George W. Bush is sending a top US diplomat to Khartoum to try to persuade Sudan to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur, the State Department said today.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, said she would leave for Sudan on Friday to tell President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that a UN force was needed urgently in Darfur to end what Washington has called genocide.
''Darfur is on the verge of a dangerous downward spiral,'' Frazer told reporters. ''We must stop the genocide.'' ''I'm going out with a message from him (Bush) to President Bashir,'' added Frazer.
Frazer said she would make clear to Sudan's leaders that atrocities and violence could not continue in Darfur, where tens of thousands of people have died in more than three years of conflict.
The United States is particularly concerned over plans by Sudan's government to send 10,500 of its own troops to Darfur.
Many of the war victims say the government is behind the violence and these troops would exacerbate the situation.
''I plan to discuss with them how we can work together to deploy a credible and legitimate UN force,'' said Frazer.
The African Union has about 7,000 under-funded troops struggling to halt the violence, which has worsened despite a peace deal signed by the government and one of the main rebel groups in May.
TOUGH CHALLENGE Frazer, who helped negotiate the May deal, will face a tough challenge trying to convince Bashir to accept a force.
Sudan state media today said that the ruling party had rejected a draft UN Security Council resolution to deploy UN peacekeepers introduced by Britain and France last week.
It would allow for a force of some 17,000 UN peacekeepers and 3,000 police to be sent to Darfur no later than October 1.
''We cannot allow foot-dragging at the UN, or be held hostage to the Sudanese government's refusal to allow UN peacekeepers to keep us from taking morally just and humane action in Darfur,'' said Frazer.
She said African Union troops were stretched to ''breaking point'' trying to keep the peace in an area the size of France, and they needed help fast.
But while a UN force was imperative, Frazer said it could not ''fight'' its way into Darfur and would need the acceptance of Sudan's government, She said the bulk of the force would consist of African troops and that Sudan, which fears there are attempts to colonize part of the country, should not be concerned about some form of ''Western domination''.
The Bush administration has come under strong criticism in recent weeks by some pressure groups, many of them religious, for not doing enough to resolve the Darfur crisis because of the focus on Lebanon and other issues.
But State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said stopping the genocide in Darfur was a priority of the Bush administration.
''Obviously we see the seriousness of the situation,'' said Gallegos.
REUTERS VJ BST0319