Sudan: Activists Greet Bush's "Plan B" Sceptically

WASHINGTON - U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the implementation of his long-awaited "Plan B" against Sudan here Tuesday, but activists said the new sanctions were unlikely to induce Khartoum to permit the long-delayed deployment of a joint African Union (AU)-U.N. force of 23,000 peacekeeping troops and police to Darfur.The sanctions include a freeze on the assets of three Sudanese individuals, including two senior Khartoum officials, and one company implicated in atrocities in Darfur, and the addition of 31 Sudanese companies to a list of 130 that are denied access to the U.S. financial system. The measure was described as "very powerful" by Bush's special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios.

"I can tell you this is very powerful because we've seen the intelligence and what effect (they have had) elsewhere," Natsios told reporters, noting that Washington will also step up enforcement of existing sanctions and seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution to broaden multilateral sanctions and impose an embargo on arms sales to Khartoum and a no-fly zone for its military aircraft over Darfur.

But Darfur activists said the new sanctions were unlikely to succeed in their aim and that more pressure on the government of President Omar al-Bashir would be needed to force it to cooperate.

"The current Plan B is too unilateral in nature and much too weak to have an impact on the calculations of either Sudanese officials or intransigent rebel leaders," according to a statement issued by Enough!, a joint initiative of the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress here, after Bush's announcement.

"President Bush's announcement of today is vacuous and inconsequential, designed for American political consumption, not as a serious effort to address the security crisis on the ground in Darfur," Eric Reeves, a leader in the Darfur movement, told IPS.

"Given the comprehensive U.S. trade and economic sanctions originally imposed by President Clinton in 1997, these small, incremental additions are nothing more than a bookkeeping inconvenience for the Khartoum region," he added. They will simply oblige Khartoum to convert dollar-denominated contracts to Euro- or Yen-denominated contracts."

The implementation of Bush's so-called Plan B apparently reflects increased frustration by the White House with what the administration perceives as a deliberate strategy by Khartoum to defy or at least delay the deployment of the AU-U.N. force for as long as possible.

That frustration has risen steadily since last August when the U.N. Security Council first authorized the deployment. By then, it had become clear that the U.S. and U.N.-backed May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed by Khartoum and one of several rebel factions had collapsed, and that the existing 7,000-man AU force was powerless to prevent growing violence in the France-sized region and even across the border into Chad.

In Congressional testimony more than six months ago, Natsios warned that if al-Bashir failed to agree to the deployment of the expanded force by Jan. 1, Bush would impose Plan B sanctions, but that date passed without consequence.

Instead, the administration placed its hopes in intensified diplomatic efforts, particularly by newly installed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and by China, by far Sudan's biggest customer for its burgeoning oil industry and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

On Apr. 18, Bush, who has repeatedly denounced four-year counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur as a "genocide" against members of the three major African tribes in the region, said he had been asked by Ban to hold off for a "short period of time" on the implementation of Plan B to give more diplomacy a chance, particularly in light of al-Bashir's promise earlier that week to permit 3,000 armed U.N. peacekeepers, backed up by six attack helicopters, to join the AU force.

"I held off implementing these steps because the United Nations believed that President Bashir could meet his obligations to stop the killing," Bush said Tuesday. "Unfortunately he hasn't met those obligations. President Bashir's actions over the past few weeks follow a long pattern of promising cooperation while finding new methods for obstruction."

"One day after I spoke, the military bombed a meeting of rebel commanders designed to discuss a possible peace deal with the government," he noted. 'In following weeks, he used his army and government-sponsored militias to attack rebels and civilians in South Darfur."

"None of this is acceptable to the United States, and we think that none of it is acceptable to the world community," said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte at a briefing with Natsios and a senior Treasury Department official after Bush's announcement. He said Washington will press its European allies to impose similar financial sanctions to "choke off international investments that are very important to Sudan."

"There is no good argument for giving the Sudanese more time; the Sudanese government has shown what it does with more time," Negroponte stressed, adding that Washington will maintain its support for "Ban's efforts and believe our action today will bolster them."

Human Rights Watch said U.N. and EU sanctions should include not only travel bans and asset freezes, but also economic sanctions on companies that do business with the Sudanese government.

"Individual sanctions should not be limited to mid-level government officials but should certainly include senior Khartoum policymakers," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch.

For his part, Ban declined to say whether he thought the new sanctions would indeed be helpful to his efforts, stressing, "This is a decision of the U.S. government, and... I hope the international community can work in a mutually reinforcing way to bring resolution on this matter as soon as possible."

Activists, however, expressed disappointment that the measures were not stronger. The Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 180 religious, humanitarian and human rights groups called the measures "too late and too little."

"If the measures announced today are to make any real difference for the people of Darfur, the president must rapidly ensure their disciplined and prioritized enforcement," said David Rubenstein, the Coalition's director.

He also called for stepped up diplomatic efforts at the U.N. to expand the Security Council sanctions regime and the preparation of a new set of unilateral sanctions -- including banning entry of ships into U.S. ports that have carried Sudanese oil and the implementation of a no-fly zone over Darfur -- if Plan B does not bring immediate results.

Activists also said they were disappointed by Bush's decision to sanction only three individuals, including one rebel leader, out of dozens of people, including top government officials, who have been named by rights groups and U.N. reports as having played key roles in the violence that has cost between 200,000 and 450,000 lives.

"Three people? After four years? And not one of them the real ringleader of the policy to divide and destroy Darfur?" complained Enough!, which also faulted the administration for "once again AfA going (it) alone. This is not leadership. This will not build multilateral pressure."

But Natsios angrily dismissed the activists' criticisms. "No matter what we propose, they say it's meaningless and they propose something more extreme, okay? So you can never satisfy the more militant people on this issue."

"The purpose of these sanctions is not sanctions; (their) purpose is to send a message to the Sudanese government to start behaving differently when they deal with their own people," he said, suggesting that the administration was prepared to take additional steps against Khartoum if these were not enough.

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

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