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Darfur Peace Accord Fails to Deliver

SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Bush met with the Sudanese vice president, Salva Kiir, in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss the peace process in Darfur, Sudan. More than two million people have been displaced and some 200,000 killed in that conflict over the past four years there.

The Darfur peace agreement was negotiated in May between the Sudanese government and the main rebel groups in Darfur. But since then, violence in that region has increased and once united rebel groups who reported to be mounting assaults on one another.

Kenneth Bacon is president of Refugees International. He joins us now on the phone in El Fasher, Sudan. Mr. Bacon, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. KENNETH BACON (President, Refugees International): My pleasure.

SIMON: You've been to Darfur before. Tell us what you're seeing there this trip.

Mr. BACON: The good news is that despite continuing difficulties, the humanitarian efforts is still managing to feed well over two million people. The bad news is that the character of the war has changed.

First, there is more intertribal rivalry than there was before. The second thing is that these huge camps for internally displaced people have become much edgier and more violent. Three aid workers were beaten to death in Zilinchi(ph), where there's a large camp.

SIMON: In fact, wasn't international aid suspended this week after those attacks?

Mr. BACON: Yes. In Zilinchi, not all of Darfur, but just in that area.

SIMON: Why isn't this peace deal signed in May working in your judgment?

Mr. BACON: Well, the primary reason is that only one of three rebel leaders signed the agreement. And the one who signed it, named Minni Minnawi, represents a very small slice of the population in Darfur.

SIMON: Let me ask about the Sudanese government refusing peacekeepers. There is, of course, a small African Union peacekeeping force, or a force at any rate, on the ground there.

Mr. BACON: Well, they haven't even agreed to it in principle. And the UN Security Council has said that they can't compel Sudan to take a force it doesn't want to take. And that's the drama that's taking place right now. And that drama will be played out in Washington next week when President Bush meets with Minnie Minnawi, the one rebel leader who signed the Darfur peace agreement.

SIMON: This week, you sent a letter to President Bush about that forthcoming visit. You are concerned about Minnie Minnawi. You suggest that some of the same transgressions that have been committed against his people are transgressions he's committing now.

Mr. BACON: Yes. I actually spent the day in a refugee camp called Tawila. And I talked to a number of people who had fled their villages. They said that they were attacked by Minnie Minnawi's forces and Minnie Minnawi's forces were saying we are going to attack anybody who doesn't agree with the Darfur peace agreement.

The UN says that Minnie Minnawi has used some of the same tactics that the Arab militias associated with the government have used. And that is, he's targeted young men and boys in his attacks.

SIMON: Ken, in your mind, is the peace deal that was negotiated with the government by rebel groups in southern Sudan - which, of course, is a separate conflict - is that any kind of instruction for Darfur now?

Mr. BACON: Yeah. And in fact, the Darfur peace agreement was based, to some extent, on the so-called comprehensive peace agreement. What makes it different is that south Sudan has oil. And that was the compelling reason for both sides to settle this so they could get reliable access to the oil.

There is reported to be large oil deposits in Darfur, but they haven't been exploited yet. I did see, however, a Chinese exploration crew in south Sudan several days ago. So who knows? China could want to play a constructive role here.

SIMON: What would you like President Bush to say to Minni Minnawi when they meet?

Mr. BACON: I would like him to say, first of all, knock off the fighting. Second, if you don't knock off the fighting, we're not going to be able to support you in any way. And third, I'd like him to say, I want you to work with President Bashir to get UN forces into Sudan and to make this peace agreement work.

SIMON: Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International, speaking with us from El Fasher in Darfur. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. BACON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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