ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton called on Sunday for pressure to be exerted on Sudan's government to accept a larger and stronger peacekeeping force to restore peace in the country's western Darfur region.
The conflict, which began in early 2003, has killed 200,000 people, forced another 2 million to flee their homes and spilled over into neighboring Chad. The 7,300-strong African Union peacekeeping and police force operating in Darfur has failed to stabilize the situation. Sudan has refused to let U.N. peacekeepers replace the poorly-funded AU operation.
"The fundamental fact for the people living there is there aren't enough troops there to protect them," Clinton told African Union officials, diplomats and aid workers in Ethiopia on Sunday. "And the mandate of the troops is not clear or broad enough."
"I would like to see a larger force go there with as many Africans as possible — and then other Muslim forces, perhaps from Turkey, or Pakistan or Bangladesh," Clinton said. "I think that the government of Khartoum should be pressured to accept such a force. I think the AU should be supported."
Clinton arrived in Ethiopia late Saturday after visiting Rwanda. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said he could send an extra 1,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, adding to some 2,500 he has already deployed there.
Kagame, however, was skeptical of the mandate given to peacekeepers, Clinton said, quoting the Rwandan leader as saying: "What are they going to do when they get there? And will they really be permitted to save lives?"
Clinton noted that African peacekeepers in Darfur operate under very difficult conditions and lacking logistical capabilities to protect lives — including the capacity to communicate well with each other and coordinate operations.
"I want to thank the AU for showing leadership on this issue and for putting its troops in harm's way. I also recognize that the AU alone cannot solve this problem," Clinton said. "I do believe that, based on my own experience, some forces from somewhere have to be able to handle the logistics and communications."
Clinton suggested that the priority in Darfur should be to protect civilians, strengthen the peacekeeping force that is already on the ground and give the troops "a mandate that will keep them alive and allow them to move around and not live as if they were in cages" out of fear of attacks.
The Darfur conflict began when members of ethnic African tribes revolted against Sudan's Arab-led government, which is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed who have been blamed for the worst atrocities. Khartoum denies involvement, but has committed to disarm the janjaweed under a peace deal signed May 5.
The agreement, signed by the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement but boycotted by other groups, sought end fighting between several rebel factions and pro-government forces. The violence has also spilled across the border into Chad.