U.S. assails Sudanese retreat in Darfur
WASHINGTON – The State Department criticized Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Tuesday for retreating on his promise to support deployment of U.N.-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, calling the Sudanese position “not acceptable to the international community.”Al-Bashir outlined his new stand in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. In late December, al-Bashir had given his consent to the U.N.-AU plan, which calls for the deployment of 22,000 forces to help protect and provide relief to victims of civil strife in Darfur.State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the United States and other countries will have to consider an appropriate response to al-Bashir’s new stance.”The problem with this letter is that it appears to be a step backward,” Casey said.Another problem standing in the way of deployment is that there are not enough troops from contributing countries to meet the U.N.-AU goals even if al-Bashir were willing to fully comply.Casey said it was important for countries to provide troops to ensure a peaceful outcome in Darfur after more than four years of strife. During that period, more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes.Al-Bashir said in his letter to Ban that he did not agree to a “heavy-support” proposal to send more than 3,000 U.N. military, police and other personnel who would lay the groundwork for the full 22,000-strong deployment. At present, there are 7,000 African Union forces in Darfur, a deployment too thin to meet the vast security and humanitarian challenges in the France-sized region.U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said the secretary-general did not consider the letter a setback and wants to discuss it with the Security Council on Thursday before commenting.Last week, the State Department’s annual report on human rights said genocide persists in Darfur, and it blamed the Sudanese government and government-backed militias.The administration has been warning of punitive measures against Sudan if al-Bashir blocks or significantly dilutes deployment of peacekeepers.Financial sanctions are being considered along with possible travel and financial sanctions against individual Sudanese officials believed responsible engaging in atrocities in Darfur.