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Bush says UN peacekeeping mission unfolding too slowly in Sudan

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Bush says UN peacekeeping mission unfolding too slowly in Sudan

President Bush speaks to reporters as he meets with Special Envoy for Sudan Richard Williamson, not shown, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

    WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that the U.N. peacekeeping mission is moving too slowly in Sudan’s Darfur region, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in a conflict the president has labeled genocide.
    Bush spoke in the Oval Office, where he met with Rich Williamson, the new special envoy for Sudan, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other members of his national security team to discuss the 4 1/2-year-old Darfur conflict.
    Williamson took the job on Jan. 7, just a week after a joint African Union-U.N. force took over peacekeeping duties in Darfur on New Year’s Eve, despite chronic shortages of staff and equipment and less-than-adequate cooperation from the Sudanese government, which is accused of fomenting the violence.
    ‘‘The United Nations considers the Darfur issue a central issue on its agenda,’’ Bush said. ‘‘We agree. The United States can help what has been a process, frankly, that has unfolded a little too slow for our liking.’’
    Asked whether the U.N. had any reaction to Bush’s comment that the Darfur peacekeeping mission was deploying too slowly, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said: ‘‘I don’t at this point.’’
    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has given top priority to efforts to end the Darfur conflict, but getting all the key rebel groups to the negotiating table has been difficult and deploying the 26,000-strong African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force has been slow.
    The Sudanese government has still not agreed to non-African troops for the force, and the U.N. has not been able to get governments to supply any helicopters, which it says are essential for the success of the mission.
    Earlier this month, U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno said the force faces many political and bureaucratic obstacles and lacks enough troops and equipment to do much to improve the situation in Darfur before mid-2008. The AU-U.N. force currently has 9,000 soldiers and police officers.
    Bush said his talks with Williamson centered on finding ways to help the United Nations become more effective in ending the violence. In addition to the tens of thousands killed, an estimated 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes since the region’s ethnic African rebels began fighting the Arab-dominated Sudanese government and its militia allies in 2003.
    ‘‘Americans probably wonder ‘Why do we care?’’’ Bush said. ‘‘One reason we care about the suffering in Sudan is because we care about the human condition all across the face of the earth, and we fully understand that when people suffer, it is in our interest to help.’’
    ‘‘And we also understand that when people suffer it makes it more likely that some may turn to the ideology of those who use murder as a weapon. So it’s in our national security interest and it’s in the interest of our conscience to confront what we have called a genocide.’’
    With his newly named envoy, Bush is pushing anew to help resolve the conflict and keep a fragile north-south peace deal from unraveling in the vast African state.
    That north-south peace accord, negotiated in 2005 with considerable U.S. involvement, is now fraying. Many see it as a template for a Darfur agreement and fear its collapse could engulf Sudan in widespread conflict, fracturing the country and throwing the region into turmoil.
    ‘‘We want to make sure that the peace agreement ... between the north and south holds,’’ Bush said.

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