Obama and Ban Ki-Moon to tackle Sudan issue together

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President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have agreed to seek ways to end the immediate humanitarian crisis in Darfur and work toward long-term peace and stability in Sudan.

After Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan, he ordered 13 international aid groups expelled from the country in retaliation. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which are not involved with the ICC’s actions, were providing about 4.7 million people with foreign assistance for food, shelter and protection from an ongoing insurgency.

“We have a potential crisis of even greater dimensions than what we already saw,” Obama said during a March 10 White House meeting with Ban. “It is not acceptable to put that many people’s lives at risk.”

U.N. officials said that the expulsion of the NGOs has paralyzed nearly half of the U.N.’s assistance programs to Darfur and limits the ability to meet ongoing humanitarian needs.

“We need to be able to get those humanitarian organizations back on the ground,” Obama said.

Obama said the United States wants to work actively with the United Nations in arresting the immediate crisis, but also in setting the stage for long-term stability in a region that has not known peace for decades.

Sudan has been wracked with civil strife for nearly four decades as more than 2 million people have died or been killed by intermittent fighting and famines, and millions more displaced from their homes within Sudan or to neighboring countries. The current fighting in the Darfur region, which is in western Sudan and about the size of France, began in 2003 when two rebel groups emerged to challenge the central government for control over Darfur, all of which has led to a major international humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations and the African Union have a joint peacekeeping force in Darfur, though it has not reached full strength. The United States provides support to the peacekeepers.

Although the United States is neither a member of the ICC nor a signatory to the 2002 Rome treaty that created it, the United States does believe that war criminals should be brought to justice and that the Sudanese government has an obligation to comply with the ICC.

“The United Nations and the United States share common visions and objectives for peace, stability, development and human rights,” Ban said at the White House meeting, which is the first since Obama became president in late January.

Ban said he is concerned that 2009 is becoming a make-or-break year, which is full of crises on many fronts for the United Nations, the United States and the whole international community.

The “United Nations stands ready to work together with you, Mr. President, to make this make-or-break year turn into make-it-work, full of optimism and resolution,” Ban said.

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