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Confrontation over Darfur 'Will Lead Us Nowhere'
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It's like sitting around a dinner table: Westerners use forks and knives, Chinese prefer chopsticks, and Arabs and Indians their hands. The mediums may be different, the purpose is the same.

Why should all of us have to use forks and knives? You should not force others to use the medium you like. The same applies to the negotiation table. The solution to a problem is more important than the means employed.

Coercion and confrontation "will lead us nowhere".

This is how China's special envoy to Darfur Liu Guijin describes the Darfur issue.

"China insists on using influence without interference, and we know respect for all the parties is vital to finding a solution," Liu said in an interview with China Daily.

"If the situation in Darfur gets out of control or if it gets too late before a solution is found, it will hurt the interest of not only the people in Darfur, but also the international community."

But to find a fair solution, "you have to learn how to deal with the Sudanese government" because no peacekeeping operation can be smooth without its support, Liu said. The international community should not forget that it is a "legitimate government that deserves respect".

"We sit together to solve the problem and restore peace in Darfur, not to punish one side in favor of another."

China has been trying to find a solution agreeable to all the parties. It has been trying to alleviate the suffering of the people, too.

It sent a team of agriculture experts to Sudan last month to study the possibility of setting up an agriculture technology demonstration center.

"Such help targets the right cause of the conflict - poverty."

China has already given US$10 million in humanitarian aid and promised to offer more.

China has used its ties with Sudan to build infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and water projects. But their relations have been politicized by a section of the media and some NGOs and politicians, Liu said.

Only 8.7 percent of the oil exports from Africa came to China last year, compared to 36 percent that went to Europe and 33 percent to the US. "If 8.7 percent is exploitation, how about 33 and 36 percent?" Liu said.

The Darfur issue has been unfairly played up partly because of the presidential election campaign in the US, he said. "Certain US politicians like to play up Darfur to show that they are standing on a higher moral ground."

And the people trying to connect Darfur with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Liu said, are either ignorant of reality or steeped in obsolete Cold War ideology. "They tend to distort China's stance and refuse to recognize the constructive role China has played."

"It is not China's Darfur, it is first Sudan's Darfur and then Africa's Darfur. We have cooperated, and will continue to cooperate on the Darfur issue, instead of confronting with other countries over it."

The Sudanese government has always been ready to talk with the political groups. It has accepted the "hybrid peacekeeping force" in Darfur unconditionally. Now, the UN is deliberating a resolution that will officially endorse the deployment of the "hybrid force".

There are differences, too, among Darfur's political groups, especially because they have now been divided into smaller factions with new demands, Liu said. So "more negotiations and compromises are needed to find a common ground".

The Second International Conference on Darfur, held in Tripoli from July 15 to 16, was a turning point for the political process, said Liu, who was among the participants.

All the parties agreed that the political process had fallen behind the peacekeeping efforts, and needed to be expedited because peacekeeping alone cannot restore real and long-time peace, he said.

The Tripoli meeting sent a strong message to the political groups in Darfur, too, that negotiations were the right way to resolve disputes, Liu said.

It was decided at the meeting that the parties would not join any initiative that didn't have the backing of the UN and the African Union (AU). "That's very important because all the parties play out their acts on a common stage," he said.

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) reached in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, in 2006 should serve as a foundation for negotiations with political groups that didn't sign the peace deal.

"The DPA is the result of years' negotiation. There is no need to discard it and start from scratch."

It is still hard to say how much the Sudanese government will compromise and how much the political groups will ask for, he said.

The UN and AU special envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, have invited leaders of Darfur's political groups that have not signed a peace agreement with the government to a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, next week.

"That is a positive sign," Liu said.

China insists on a simple and practical resolution. "We should not put more differences in the UN resolution, or else the bargaining will continue forever and become more complicated," Liu said.

(China Daily July 27, 2007)

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