WASHINGTON – President Bush said Monday that it's important for United Nations forces to take over peacekeeping as soon as possible in the Darfur region of Sudan where nearly 200,000 people have died in a three-year conflict.
Bush met at the White House with Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo and head of the 53-nation African Union, to discuss Darfur, AIDS and other issues.
"We talked about our common commitment to help end the genocide in Darfur," Bush said in the Oval Office. "I appreciate the president's leadership in helping negotiate a peace agreement, and I appreciate his leadership in working with the United Nations so we can get the AU forces blue-helmeted as quickly as possible."
The African Union has a 7,300-member peacekeeping force in Darfur and is mediating the conflict. The AU troops are getting support from NATO and the European Union and are due to hand this responsibility over to a United Nations force in September.
This is the second time that Sassou-Nguesso was at the White House. He met with former President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
The African leader said the two talked about terrorism, Iran's nuclear ambitions, African development issues, the situation in the Gulf of Guinea, the Congo Basin and the New Partnership for African Development, known as NEPAD.
The concept of NEPAD is that in return for African efforts to fight corruption and modernize their economies, the international community agrees to forgive debts and expand trade opportunities and aid for projects developed by Africans for Africans. Critics of NEPAD say the ideas are not new and that passing out cash is not the answer.
"I was happy to see President Bush give his entire support to the development of Africa," Sassou-Nguesso said. "We discussed a lot of issues that we're all interested in: Peace, security, and not just in Africa, but beyond Africa, in the world."