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U.S. Readies Sanctions Against Sudan

A top U.S. official said Wednesday the administration is preparing to impose tough economic sanctions against Sudan in response to the refusal of President Omar al-Bashir to allow deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

Andrew Natsios, presidential envoy to Sudan, said that, pending final approval by President Bush, Sudanese companies will be subject to sanctions and international transactions involving U.S. dollars will be blocked.

"I don't want to presuppose the decision that the president is going to make," he said. "It is pretty clear the president is angrier than anyone else. He gets very upset when he talks to me about the situation. He gets very frustrated by it."

Natsios spoke during a telephone conference call in which officials from humanitarian groups and other non-governmental organizations participated.

Al-Bashir made known his disapproval of the U.N. plan in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, details of which emerged earlier this week. Under the plan a hybrid U.N.-African Union force totaling 22,000 military and civilian personnel are to be deployed in Darfur.

"I was stunned by the letter," Natsios said, adding it was practically an invitation by al-Bashir to "sanction us, come after us."

Over the past four years, some 200,000 Darfurians have died and more than 2.5 million displaced from their homes because of civil strife. The United States has said the situation there is "genocidal," attributing most of the blame to the Sudanese government and government-backed militias.

Scenes of the suffering in the region have produced an outpouring of concern and demands for international action to protect the victims and provide relief for them.

Natsios said that in addition to the economic sanctions, two Sudanese will be banned from travel to the United States and lose their savings accounts because of their involvement in "atrocious acts." Similar sanctions will be imposed against a Darfur rebel leader who, he said, has played an obstructionist role in peace talks.

He added that the sanctions will be imposed unilaterally but that the United States will seek support from others in the international community. "The sanctions will be much more powerful if other nations join us," he said.

Natsios acknowledged that he was irked by al-Bashir's negative attitude toward the peacekeeping plan because the Sudanese government itself took part in negotiations last November when the proposal took final shape.

"I told some of them that we were very disappointed in the way they were responding to an agreement that we all reached together," he said.

The humanitarian situation is so grave that some members of Congress, among others, have recommended U.S. military action in Darfur. But that idea appears to have scant support because it would be widely seen by some Islamic countries as another American power grab in another Muslim country.

Darfur has been the scene of repeated civil strife over the years, but nothing on the scale of the past four years. The violence was triggered initially when black tribes rebelled against what they perceived to be neglect by the Khartoum government. The rebellion was met with fierce resistance by the government and loyal militias, with innocent civilians enduring most of the suffering.

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