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Critics: Sanctions fall short

Published May 30, 2007


WASHINGTON - It has taken President Bush nearly three years to match his impassioned rhetoric about what he decries as genocide in Darfur with tougher U.S. action against some of those blamed for the suffering.

When Bush announced sanctions on Tuesday, advocacy groups and lawmakers wished the president had been harsher and wondered whether it was a case of too little, too late for Darfur. The violence has killed 200, 000 people and forced 2.5-million more from their homes since it began in February 2003.

"We believe this decision is unfair and untimely, " said Sudan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq.

The sanctions bar 31 companies owned or controlled by Sudan's government from the U.S. banking system. The sanctions also prevent three Sudanese individuals from doing business with U.S. companies or banks.

"Three people? After four years? And not one of them the real ringleader of the policy to divide and destroy Darfur?" asked John Prendergast, policy adviser to ENOUGH Project, an advocacy group to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. "This will not build multilateral pressure, and this will not end the crisis in Darfur."

The United States has been working on the issue at the U.N. Security Council, and Bush has appointed special envoys to the region. The United States is the world's largest single donor to the people of Darfur, providing more than $1.7-billion in humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. Darfur is an arid region in eastern Africa about the size of Texas.

The conflict erupted when members of Darfur's ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they considered decades of neglect by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. Sudanese leaders are accused of retaliating by unleashing the janjaweed militia to put down the rebels using a campaign of murder, rape, mutilation and plunder - a charge they deny.

"The Bush administration has acted more vigorously than perhaps any other nation, but has seriously underestimated what it will take to end the genocide, " said David Rubenstein, director of Save Darfur Coalition. "These steps should have been taken earlier, and should have been stronger."

Bush's sanctions, focused on financial transactions, are not overly ambitious. Bush also directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to draft a U.N. resolution aimed at placing multinational pressure on Khartoum.

Strapped by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has no plan to send U.S. forces to Sudan.

It's not the first time the United States has been accused of dragging its heels on an African humanitarian crisis. President Bill Clinton said one of his administration's biggest mistakes was being slow to act to halt the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left more than 500, 000 dead.

Bush has a possible opening on the diplomatic front. The president is headed to Europe next week, where Darfur will be on the agenda of the annual summit of industrialized nations. The European Union said it was prepared to consider tougher measures to push Sudan to finally allow a large U.N. peacekeeping mission into Darfur.

China, a major investor in Sudan's economy, has blocked sanctions in the past, but may reconsider that position as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympics and wants to avoid protests at the event.

[Last modified May 30, 2007, 01:52:36]

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