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US does not endorse Sudan's strategy for Darfur

April 1 - 2011 Khartoum

US senior advisor on Darfur: Ambassador Dane Smith dismisses Bashir’s unilateral decision for Referendum Darfur.

The government of Sudan should not start a referendum on the issue of Darfur unless agreed upon during the Doha peace talks. The US senior advisor on Darfur , ambassador Dane Smith, speaking to Radio dabanga, has dismissed the current consultation process in Darfur and says to Radio Dabanga that ‘’We have not endorsed any strategy of the Sudan government for Darfur. I want to emphasize that”. Ambassador Dane Smith says the US is not considering a no-fly zone for Darfur like in Libya. He says that the political situation in Darfur with a large international presence and involvement can not be compared with the situation in Libya. Smith calls for stopping the aerial bombings and urges the leaders of the armed movements, particularly Abdelwahid and Minni Minnawi to join the peace talks in Doha and for all to reach a cease fire as soon as possible.

RD: Thank you Mr. Smith. Can you Mr Ambassador explain your task and your plan for Darfur?

DS: I was appointed by President Obama and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to intensify our diplomacy on Darfur. We have indicated to the Sudanese Government that a complete normalization of our relations with Sudan requires a resolution of the Darfur conflict. At the moment we are watching very carefully the discussions in Doha. We have noted encouraging signs coming out of Doha about the negotiations. As you know those negotiations that have been going on for a couple of years, without to much progress, but recently since the beginning of the year we have noted progress. In particular the fact that the government of Sudan and the armed movements have been working on the same text of the comprehensive agreement, a text submitted by the mediation team. We have also noted that political cooperation between the armed movements has improved significantly. That should help unify the movements and move them to a more common position in negotiating with the Sudanese government. We think that is helpful. We want to encourage the parties: the Government of Sudan, the LJM and JEM to engage directly face to face and really make every effort to reach a settlement including a cease fire in the near future to bring this process to a fruitful end.

RD: Mr. ambassador Dane Smith, you speak about peace negotiations, but the audience wants to know your plan and your future for Darfur.

DS: Well, I don’t think that my particular plan is what is important here. We believe that everybody needs to work together here on these problems. Everybody must work together: the Government of Sudan, the armed movements, the UN, the AU, the government of Qatar and the Arab League and other parties that include the E6 [RD: European Union, US, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom] and the envoys of the different countries. All need to work together to work to solutions. I don’t have a plan but there are certain areas we have to work on together.

RD: What is your assessment of the current situation in Darfur.

DS: Well I think the situation is a very complicated picture in which where there has been some increase in armed conflict in particular in certain areas around Jebel Marra. That has had the unfortunate effect of creating new displacements of the people from Jebel Marra area, a number of which that have come down to ZAM ZAM camp. And that has been unfortunate

We also think that there have been difficulties in delivering services to the internally displaced persons, because of the reduction in the number of international NGOs working in Darfrur. These iNGOs working together with community based organizations and local Darfuri NGOs are very important in delivering services to IDPs, as well as to people who are resettling in certain areas in Darfur. Those are two things that are significant.

We do think that UNAMID has strengthened over the past few months, we believe it has become more aggressive in its patrolling and protection of civilians. We are impressed by that improvement and give credit to the mediator and to the UNAMID forces

RD: But also there are complaints about UNAMID, because people say UNAMID is not taking action immediately when something happens in Darfur

DS: UNAMID is taking action, it patrols at most cases around the camps on a 24-7 basis, both with daytime patrols and night time more stationary patrols so there is a lot of protection going on. It is true that there have been some instances in which UNAMID patrols have been halted by the government or by police, even though on the basis of the Status of Forces Agreement governing UNAMID they have the right to access every place of Darfur. They simply have to inform the government where they are going, not ask permission but informing only. This sometimes in practice has run into some difficulties, but in general we think there is an upward trend in their protection. I have been to Darfur three times in the last three months and have talked to many people in the camps. And generally speaking - although there are some complaints about UNAMID -  I find the IDPs are grateful for the protection they receive from UNAMID.

RD: About the IDPs, there is a complaint of IDPs in Darfur as you travelled to Darfur that there is a shortage of food, and that people need aid. What do you do as being responsible for Darfur in the USA for these people.

DS: The food situation is a complicated one. For one thing WFP has been providing food to many different camps for many months. The normal procedure of the WFP and in any international programme is to try to encourage IDPs to try to stand on their own to the extent possible. It is therefore natural that food distribution goes down over time in individual camps, as people find other ways to provide a living. On the other hand when there are new displacements that of course requires special measures on the part of the WFP and others to meet these sudden needs. I am satisfied that the WFP and international agencies are doing their best to meet those special needs

RD: There are about 100.000 people now in ZamZam-camp who have fled from different areas, because the government is bombing that area. These people are now in very bad situation. What do you do to send these people food or something like this.

DS: Yes, I have been to ZamZam–camp and have seen these displaced people on both sides of the camp, including on the side of the wadi which is not a good permanent place for them to be, especially as the rainy season begins. The recent estimates of the UN Humanitarian coordinator Mr. Georg Charpentier has indicated that the agencies are busy working on the issues of food and health, and sanitation issues for that particular group. It is a large group, seems to be in the nature of about 70.000 at this point. Another point related to that, however, is that the agencies are looking at ways in which they can provide services for people who are in an intermediate place, it is not a good idea for all of them to come down to ZamZam-camp since it is already a very large camp..

RD: But the security in other areas is not good

DS: It is better to provide services to people in their own area.

RD: Yes sir, but the security is not good in that area and also there is something the people in the IDP camps want to ask. Especially the people in ZamZam who spoke to Radio Dabanga. They said, that the USA and the international community made a no-fly zone for Libya. There are attacks and more bombing and attacking of people in Darfur. Why do you not go and take action like what you do in Libya to protect the civilians. And these are  the civilians, thousands of civilians who have fled because of bombing and attacks of the government.  

DS: The situation in Lybia is quite different from that in Darfur. In Libya there is chaotic situation in which the Libyan government was attacking its own people and there was no peace process in place, whereas in Darfur the international community has been engaged for a long time, particularly with UNAMID.  UNAMID has now gotten pretty close to its authorized strength.

In addition to that, there has been a long serving assistance programme providing services to the IDPs and of course to the refugees on the other side of the border. And of course there is a peace process going on the Doha dicussions that I was talking about.We believe it is important for all sides to engage. Including those movements that have not been engaged in Doha. Particularly  we are thinking about the SLA factions of Abdelwahid and Minni Minnawi. We encourage them to associate themselves with what is going on in Doha. I have talked to both of those leaders and we are examining other ways to be in touch with them and also what steps might be taken if these movements refuse to participate in the peace process. In other words there is an extensive process going on in Darfur which has not been the case in Libya the situations are quite different.

RD: Did you speak to the government, because there is a bombing still going on and did you speak with them to stop this?

DS: Yes,  That is an excellent question, and we call upon the government to cease aerial bombing. One has to recognize that this is in part a response to military activity of the rebel movement, but we think that any aerial bombing that leads to civilian casualties is wrong, and we would like to see as an outcome of Doha, a cease fire that would go into effect in the very near future.

RD: We are going to speak at last about the Doha peace process. We read in our newspapers in Sudan, that the USA agrees to support fully the new strategy of the government towards Darfur. Is that true?

DS: What the US has said is that to follow on to the Doha process it could lead to a Darfur based consultative process, provided that it occurs on the right conditions. It would have to be a process that is very inclusive of all the key elements in Darfur. It would also have to be a process in which people could feel confident in participating without being harassed by the government. It would also require a more open situation as far as the work of international NGO’s is concerned. So we have not endorsed any government strategy for Darfur. I want to emphasize that. We have been in some conversation about a future of a consultative process in Darfur on the ground that would be internationally supervised, but we have not reached any conclusion on that. We think that the priority should be to get a good decision on a cease fire out of Doha. We want to encourage everybody to engage fully in that process. And we want to encourage the government of Sudan to show the same kind of constructive spirit it demonstrated with the 2011 referendum in Southern Sudan. We would like to see the same spirit coming out of Khartoum with respect to the Darfur peace.

RD: You spoke about referendum in the South. Yesterday president Al-Bashir announced that there will be a referendum going to take place in Darfur, for one region or a state. What is your view about this?

DS: Yes, well we believe that the referendum is an issue that should be discussed in Doha. It is subject to discussion there, it is in the text that the parties are working on. Doha, in our view, is the place where decisions should be made on the referendum. And holding a referendum should not be undertaken unilaterally, but as part of the Doha process.

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