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Ambassador: Agreement for Darfur can work despite hurdles
by Lee Chottiner
Executive Editor
Mar 26, 2012 | 2323 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Ambassador Dane F. Smith Jr., on a visit to Darfur, March 2011. (Photo provided by the U.S. State Department)</i>
Ambassador Dane F. Smith Jr., on a visit to Darfur, March 2011. (Photo provided by the U.S. State Department)
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Despite some positive signs for the latest negotiated peace agreement in Darfur, Ambassador Dane F. Smith Jr. warned more must be accomplished before the deal can lead to a lasting peace in the war-torn region of Sudan.

Smith, the U.S. senior advisor on Darfur to President Obama, said the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, named for the capital of Qatar where it was drafted last year, has too few signatories. He suggested that several steps must be taken for the warring parties to sign on.

Nevertheless, the Doha Document addresses many salient points necessary to restore peace and order to Darfur, he said, including human rights, return of refugees to their homes, compensation, power sharing and justice and reconciliation (including a special court to hear testimony on atrocities during the conflict).

In addition, the United Nations, African Union and Arab League support the agreement.

“The agreement is comprehensive and off to a positive start, but it is not a perfect agreement; there are ways in which it can be strengthened,” Smith said Monday at a luncheon at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. “Peace agreements are never perfect; they always have flaws in them.”

Smith appeared in Pittsburgh this week as part of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition’s (PDEC) 2011-2012 Speaker Series. Rabbi James Gibson, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, United Synagogue Youth and Congregation Beth Shalom are among the sponsors.

“[For] we who have been advocating for eight years for Darfur, it’s important to bring us up to speed on what our government is doing,” David Rosenberg, coordinator of the PDEC, said in introducing Smith.

The Darfur conflict, which deteriorated into genocide and has included violence against women and children, including rape as a weapon, has caught the attention of many Jews. They have advocated for action to stop the conflict.

According to a figure provided by Smith, 300,000 people have died in the eight-year conflict, which started in 2003, 2 million are internally displaced and 250,000 are refugees.

Some Darfuris have fled as far north as Israel, crossing the border and leaving the government there to decide what to do about them.

Smith, who has made eight trips to Darfur since his appointment in 2010, said more needs to be done to encourage warring parties to sign on to the Doha agreement:

• He called on the nonsignatories to indicate willingness to negotiate based on the agreement and to clearly state their demands and differences with it;

• He urged the Sudanese government to be “flexible” with the parties and not to set limits on what it’s willing to discuss; and

• He acknowledged the need to address “widespread doubt that the government will implement the agreement” (though he noted that Sudan did permit the referendum last year through which the people of South Sudan voted for independence).

Smith said there is also a role to be played by the The African Union/U.N. Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) — the peacekeeping force on the ground in Darfur.

According to Smith, UNAMID has been disseminating the Doha agreement across Darfur through workshops and has provided logistical support to the cease-fire commission.

“UNAMID is playing a crucial role in facilitating the implementation of this agreement,” Smith said, even though he noted the force has been hindered in the past by uneven training for its forces on the ground.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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