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Don't Link Darfur Issue to the Beijing Olympics
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By Ruan Zongze

As Beijing has started the countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games, an attempt is being made to link the Darfur issue with the Olympiad.

On March 28, US movie actress and United Nations friendship ambassador Mia Farrow published a biased article in the Wall Street Journal criticizing China and calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

Not long after that, French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou echoed Farrow's sentiment by suggesting that France should consider boycotting the Beijing Games if China refuses to pressure the Sudanese government into a speedy solution of the Darfur crisis. By blaming the Darfur issue on China they have bared their ignorance and arrogance toward China.

Darfur is situated in western Sudan with an area of about 500,000 square kilometers, which translates into one-fifth of Sudan's territory. The current population of this region is estimated at more than 3 million.

Like most other African nations, Sudan's national boundaries were arbitrarily determined in the 19th century by European powers carving up the continent for colonization. This not only resulted in the complexity of Sudan's ethnic makeup but also divided some tribes and separated them in different countries.

In February 2003, the Sudan Liberation Army (the People's Liberation Movement), consisting mostly of land-tilling villagers, the Justice and Equality Movement and several other armed groups, launched a large-scale anti-government campaign demanding autonomous rule.

The local Arabs and Muslims from neighboring countries formed a loosely grouped militia force called the Janjaweed to fight the anti-government militants.

A series of military confrontations took place as the two sides' mutual hatred boiled over, causing deaths in the tens of thousands. More than a million locals were rendered homeless.

The causes of the crisis include tribal conflict, religious disputes, conflicts over scarce water and land, marginalization of the region, the locals' terrible relations with the central government and the war in southern Sudan.

There are about 80 tribes in the Darfur region, where armed confrontations break out frequently over subsistence farmland, pastures and water.

Adding to that is the presence of numerous anti-government armed groups, which are constantly fighting one another to secure their own interests. Thus, finding a way to end the conflict and bring the tribes to peaceful coexistence has become a key task.

The Sudanese authorities have blamed the anti-government armed groups for throwing the Darfur region into turmoil and refused to grant their demand for autonomous rule. At the same time, the government insists that the issue be a Sudan domestic affair and objects to any attempt to internationalize it.

Unfortunately, despite mediation by the African Union, negotiations between the government and the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement have suffered repeated breakdowns.

Western countries led by the United States are now pushing for a UN resolution for sanctions against the Sudanese authorities for what they call "genocide" in the region.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power, China is deeply concerned with the Darfur crisis and has played a constructive role in resolving the problem from an early date. Major measures China has taken so far include:

Narrowing differences and pushing for peaceful dialogue among all sides by communicating with the factions through a number of channels.

China has worked with the concerned parties to narrow their differences and urged them to enter peaceful dialogue through such channels as reciprocal visits by state leaders, exchange of special envoys, telephone calls, exchange of letters and meetings at the UN.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a three-phase plan for deploying a joint peace-keeping force by UN and AU member nations in Darfur. Thanks to efforts by China the Sudanese government finally accepted the proposal in principle and expressed willingness to be more flexible on this issue.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Kye-Moon on March 8 that he supports the UN plan to deploy joint UN-AU peacekeeping forces in the Darfur region.

On April 16, Sudan accepted the deployment of UN attack helicopters and 3,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, the first time it allowed a significant presence of UN forces to help African troops struggling to bring peace to the region.

Part of earlier UN moves, on November 16, 2006, then UN Secretary-General Annan announced that Sudan had agreed "in principle" to accept the joint peacekeeping forces.

A small number of military advisors were dispatched to the region by the UN soon afterwards as the start of the three-phase deployment commenced, although the remaining two phases have yet to commence. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently called on the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the early deployment of the UN-AU joint peacekeeping forces.

Presenting a constructive initiative. In January, President Hu Jintao put forward the following principles for resolving the Darfur crisis during his visit to Sudan:

a) Respect Sudan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

b) Stick to dialogue and consultation on an equal footing in a bid to resolve disputes peacefully.

c) International bodies such as the AU and UN should play a constructive role in the issue of peacekeeping in Darfur.

d) Push for regional stability and improve local living conditions.

The urgent task today is to realize a complete ceasefire in the Darfur region, speed up the process of political negotiation and bring into the peace process those factions that have yet to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement. At the same time, make sure humanitarian aid is properly delivered to improve local living conditions to try to start gradual improvement of local conditions.

Send special envoys to Darfur. In January 2006, Vice-Foreign Minister Lu Guozeng visited the Darfur region as a special enjoy of the Chinese government. That trip was followed this month by the four-day visit to Sudan by Special Envoy Zhai Jun, who held talks with Sudanese President Al-Bashir.

He also toured the Darfur region, met with governors of the Shamal Darfur (North Darfur) and Janub Darfur (South Darfur) states, visited three refugee camps and talked to representatives of local residents and refugees to gauge the humanitarian and security situation.

China places great importance on the humanitarian and security situations in Darfur and has donated more than $10 million in humanitarian aid as well as cash to the AU Special Delegation to the region. It has also sent peacekeeping troops to Sudan as part of AU-UN joint peacekeeping forces.

Cooperation between China and Sudan in energy resource development has played a positive role in helping the local economy and improving living conditions in Sudan.

Job opportunities increased dramatically as a result of the bilateral cooperation. The joint venture has provided jobs to more than 100,000 people, while employing even more indirectly as the oil industry has grown.

China, while helping Sudan develop its energy and mineral resources, also provides training for local management personnel, engineers and workers to lay down the human foundation for the sustainable development of Sudan's energy and mineral industries.

Chinese construction companies have built roads, hospitals and water supply facilities, which markedly contribute to the improvement of local people's standard of living.

Clearly China has maintained a responsible stand in the Darfur issue and played a constructive role in the region. Because of the complicated nature of the causes of the Darfur crisis, the key to resolving the problem lies in the early realization of lasting peace, economic recovery and alleviation of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

To accomplish this goal it is imperative first for the Sudanese government to cooperate in all related efforts; second, for the AU to continue to play a leading role; and third, for the international community to continue providing aid to the best of its abilities.

Sudan is one of the least developed nations in the world. It will only add to the Sudanese people's sufferings and perhaps further complicate the situation to slap sanctions against the Western African country.

"One world, one dream." The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games is not a spectacular gathering for just the Chinese but for people all over the world. It not only does disservice to the resolution of the Darfur issue but also constitutes an insult to the Olympic spirit to wantonly blame China for the Darfur crisis and blackmail China by threatening to boycott the Beijing Games next year.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

(China Daily April 24, 2007)

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