WASHINGTON – President Bush urged Sudan on Thursday to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur province to replace overstretched African Union troops. He acknowledged there was much work to be done before that could happen.
Bush talked with Sudanese Vice President Salva Kiir about efforts to carry out a U.S.-backed peace plan and to reach out to all rebel factions.
"I assured our friend that the United States is committed to helping the Sudanese people; we're committed to making sure that the peace agreement that we helped you negotiate is implemented. We're also committed to helping the people in Darfur," Bush said.
"Our strategy is that we want AU forces to be complemented and blue-helmeted — in other words, the United Nations should be invited in. We talked about how best to get that done in order to save lives. Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done," Bush said.
Kiir sidestepped the issue of the introduction of Western troops, which his government has opposed.
"We are sure that we are going to solve the problem so that we don't hear about rapes and killings in Darfur. And all other parts of our country, like the eastern Sudan, we are now also negotiating in that province so that peace is also achieved all over the Sudan," Kiir said.
The Sudanese government is refusing to allow in a U.N. force to replace the African peacekeepers and stem violence in the vast western region. Although NATO and the European Union have provided training and other support, the African Union force is thinly spread around the remote area.
Since 2003, the Darfur conflict has killed some 200,000 and forced 2 million to flee their homes. The violence in Darfur erupted when non-Arab tribes revolted against Sudan's Arab-led government, which is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush encouraged Kiir to promote a government of national unity and to work with rebels to bring the rest of the rebel factions to the table.
Later, Kiir met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department.
"We were pleased to play a role in the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement for the people of Sudan that ended a very long civil war between North and South, and we are now committed to ending the violence in Darfur so that Sudan can be whole and at peace," Rice said.