Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has voiced optimism that the Sudanese government will succumb to outside pressure to expand the size of an African Union peacekeeping force deployed in the country's war-torn Darfur region.
Speaking to reporters in Washington after a visit to Darfur, Andrew Natsios said there was unanimous opinion that the presence of the current force, despite its modest size, was having a beneficial effect.
Natsios said he had told the Khartoum administration it was "critically important" that it accepted a larger AU force.
He said the British and Europeans were making the same argument, "and I think it finally has gotten through that it's in their interest to stabilize this very unstable situation."
Up to now, Khartoum has only allowed some 310 peacekeepers, who are providing security to 120 unarmed AU observers monitoring a cease-fire between the parties fighting in a conflict involving government forces, government-backed militias and two Darfurian rebel groups.
An estimated 50,000 people have died since the conflict began early last year and another 1.4 million have been displaced.
Natsios described how he flew over Darfur and corroborated declassified aerial CIA photographs showing 574 towns that had been completely destroyed and 157 that had been partially destroyed.
He said livestock and farms had been seized by the Janjaweed, the Arab militia allegedly sponsored by Khartoum and accused of atrocities against the black African Muslim population.
Earlier, Washington's special envoy to Sudan warned that Sudan could disintegrate into the type of political chaos that affected Somalia if an expanded AU force was not allowed to contain the Darfur crisis.
Charles Snyder voiced concern that Sudanese political groups and civilians displaced by the fighting were feeling increasingly that political and economic equity could only be obtained through the barrel of a gun.
"In the worst case, if this trend continues, it could lead us into the situation like that of Somalia ... if everything goes wrong, it is a probability," he said in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Snyder said an enlarged AU peacekeeping force would be in a better position to prevent such a scenario.
For the last decade, armed factions have controlled various regions of Somalia, and no functioning central government has operated. The situation provided an ideal operating base for terrorists. Two years of peace talks and the recent inauguration of a transitional parliament have raised hopes for a better future, however.
Snyder and Natsios both said the conclusion of peace talks between Khartoum and the two Darfur rebel groups, as well as the unrelated peace process between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) - ending the longer running civil war in the south - were important if the security situation was to be improved, and to prevent intrusion by terrorist groups.
Peace talks between Khartoum and the SPLA will resume on October 7 in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, according to Sudanese government negotiator Sayed el-Khatib. Talks over the Darfur crisis are underway in Abuja, Nigeria.
"We need to re-motivate ourselves in re-engaging in the process of Sudan peace process because that will prevent the disintegration of Sudan to the levels of Somalia," Snyder said.
The main challenge facing the talks in Naivasha was to erase "mutual suspicion," he said.
Khartoum has raised suspicions that SPLA leader John Garang is involved in the Darfur conflict, while Garang in turn accuses the government of using Darfur as an excuse to delay resuming the Naivasha talks.
The AU has expressed its willingness to play a more prominent role in Darfur, and it has called for greater cooperation from both the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.