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Plea From East Africa: 'We Don't Want to Be the Next Afghanistan'

Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM

Innis told NewsMax.com that he was not troubled by President Bush’s State of the Union focus on Iraq, Iran and North Korea. "Mr. Bush is listening and aware," Innis said. "We want Mr. Bush to step in and arbitrate peace, be an honest broker of peace, in Sudan.”

In a state of perpetual civil war (north versus south, Muslim versus Christian) for 18 years, Sudan is potentially the "next headquarters of terror," Innis said. "Terrorism likes a vacuum and thrives on a lack of infrastructure.”

Innis told his discussion group, "Africa’s Role in America’s War on Terrorism,” that Sudan had expelled Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s and wanted to move closer to the U.S., even offering to turn the terrorist over to American authorities. "The Clinton administration refused to accept.

"One of our goals when talking with the various heads of state, the [southern Muslim] rebel leader John Garang and others was to determine if the bin Laden story was based on real facts. We concluded that critical intelligence about the al-Qaeda network was indeed lost at that time.

"We helped to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan and then withdrew,” Innis said, pointing to the obvious dire consequences of that disengagement to the U.S. Likewise, Innis explained, a U.S. disengagement from Sudan would have "national security implications, as well as serious commerce implications.”

Innis praised the work of former Sen. John Danforth as special envoy to Sudan. "His hosting of the north-south negotiations resulted in a six-month armistice.”

At the Rose Garden ceremony in September announcing Danforth’s appointment, President Bush said: "It’s important to this administration. It’s important to the world to bring some sanity to the Sudan.”

Innis agreed with the administration’s commitment in East Africa. "The United States cannot divorce itself from the world. We are the new Romans.”

When asked if a heavy-handed American presence in the troubled region would invoke images of imperialism, Innis explained that he would expect that most of the pacification and economic development work would be done by so-called NGOs, non-governmental organizations.

Sudan’s internal war has left more than 2 million dead and displaced 4.4 million people within its borders (the largest concentration of internally displaced in the world). The country is also marked by religious persecution and abductions of children and women into servitude by Arab tribal militias.

Innis said that his fact-finding team found "no direct evidence of the Khartoum government benefiting from the slave trade.”

The ambassadors from Sudan and Uganda were present in Innis' audience at Crystal City Gateway Marriott.

Sudan's ambassador to the United States, Khidir Haroun Ahmed, said he was heartened over the past 18 months by the prominent presence of U.S. intelligence forces in his country.

Expressing a willingness for cooperation and dialogue with the U.S., Ahmed said, "We thank God that we have an administration [in Washington]that is paying attention.”

The Sudanese spokesman also concluded, "All the problems of the Sudan are the byproducts of war.”

Edith Grace Ssempala, Uganda’s ambassador to the U.S., said she was hopeful of "more indicators [in Sudan] of genuine democracy.” She said that the best indicator of a reforming Sudan would be its "repentance.”

"No African nation wants to be another Afghanistan,” she added, agreeing with Innis.

Ssempala also pointed to the key role in her country that is being offered to women and youth, being drafted into the parliament by an unusual form of "affirmative action.”

The Bush administration has expressed some satisfaction with the cooperation it has had from Sudan in the anti-terrorism fight. However, on Nov. 1, the U.S. extended sanctions on Sudan, citing outstanding issues on terrorism and human rights.

The friendly, outgoing Ahmed stressed that his country’s cooperation with the U.S. started well before Sept. 11. "When it comes to this terrorism and terrorist issue, there is nothing outstanding.”

He extended an open invitation for professionals from the U.S. to come and see for themselves any issue of concern from slavery to the reputed terror training camps. He is in favor of restaffing the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and having a normal relationship.

All in the discussion group agreed with the recent findings and recommendations of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which recommended to the Bush administration, among other things:

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Innis told NewsMax.com that he was not troubled by President Bush's State of the Union focus on Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Mr. Bush is listening and aware, Innis said. We want Mr. Bush to step in and arbitrate peace, be an honest broker of peace, in Sudan." In a state...
Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM
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