USUN PRESS RELEASE #021
Ambassador Rice: We had a very comprehensive briefing from Assistant Secretary-General Mulet today about the deteriorating situation in south Darfur. The United States is gravely concerned by reports of intensive aerial bombardment. The Secretariat reported 28 bombs dropped just this morning in Muhajiriya. And the Secretariat also reported that these had occurred despite the fact that JEM forces have pulled back from the town now some 50 to 60 kilometers and have proposed that this -- that Muhajiriya be turned into a demilitarized area and UNAMID be allowed to take up positions throughout the area and protect civilians.
Instead the bombardment continues. The government of Sudan has prevented UNAMID personnel from moving into the area to investigate impeding the freedom of movement of these personnel, which is a violation of the Status of Forces Agreement between UNAMID and the government of Sudan.
So this is clearly a very worrisome situation, and the risk that the violence will escalate, that the government will continue its bombing and indeed a ground campaign, despite the fact that the JEM is not in Muhajiriya anymore is of grave concern.
So we will be, as a Council, watching this situation very closely and, as you heard from the President, working towards a Presidential Statement, we hope, which will condemn the violence, call for a cease-fire and point out the necessity of stopping the aerial bombardment in the broader effort to ensure the protection of civilians, thousands of whom took refuge in the UNAMID team site over the weekend and at least 2,000 of whom remain there under, effectively, the protection of UNAMID.
I just want to conclude by saying that the United States commends UNAMID for standing fast in the face of threats to its security and a demand by the Government of Sudan that it withdraw from the area. It has done so at great risk and has therefore contributed to the protection of civilians. And we also commend the secretary-general and other members of the Secretariat for their efforts and their diplomacy to address this urgent situation.
Reporter: Do you see this as shadow boxing by the Sudanese? Do you think that once the ICC, if they issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir, that the Sudanese government will then call on the whole mission in Darfur to leave? And if that happens, do you think that UNAMID will stay put?
Ambassador Rice: I certainly wouldn't want to speculate about what will transpire, but I think it's worth acknowledging that this is part of a pattern which has characterized the conflict and indeed the genocide in Darfur over the last five-plus years. The use of aerial bombardments, the movement of rebel forces, clashes on the ground and deliberate targeting of civilians is not something that has transpired only in the potential anticipation of an arrest warrant; it's something that's characterized the conflict for many years.
Reporter: But do you think the arrest warrant is driving that? Do you think that both sides are trying to test the waters and see how the international community is reacting?
Ambassador Rice: I wouldn't presume to speculate on the motives of either party.
Reporter: Ambassador, what about the responsibility of the rebels? Please, don't you think they're also endangering the situation by seeking attacks against the Sudanese government?
Ambassador Rice: I think it's clear that this particular incident began with JEM forces moving into Muhajiriya, which obviously is something of grave concern that is destabilizing. Now that they have moved out of Muhajiriya, and the bombing continues, I think the onus is on the government to halt all aerial bombardment to allow UNAMID to have complete freedom of movement and to enable--to effectively carry out its mandate to protect civilians.
Thank you very much. Appreciate it.