Thursday, January 11, 2007

"The Top Humanitarian And Most Singularly Destructive Event In The World Today"

Once again, Governor Richardson has reached out to the netroots.

Earlier today, I participated in a phone conference with Governor Richardson, who reached out to bloggers, to brief us on his trip to Sudan and to shed light on the dire circumstances in Darfur.

Governor Richardson indicated that he was asked two weeks ago by the Save Darfur Coalition to go to Sudan, because of his personal relationship with President al-Bashir. Their goals were to get U.N. troops into Sudan, a peacekeeping force that doesn’t yet exist within the country's borders. Second, they hoped to broker a ceasefire to stop the violence. According to Governor Richardson there have been 300,000 killings and 2 million people displaced so far. Richardson also stressed that he hoped to put an end to an incredible number of sexual violations and rapes, of women and the violence against young children who are victims of a brutal war.

Governor Richardson noted that he met twice with President al-Bashir, and also met with rebel groups. He said he sent a strong message to all that they have to stop pillaging and raping and join the peace process. Governor Richardson noted that there was a peace agreement reached in Nigeria one month ago, but only one out of three rebel groups signed it and the peace did not last.

Then the Governor reported on the progress that had been made on his trip.

Richardson obtained a commitment from President al-Bashir and rebels for 60 day cease-fire. There are to be no hostilities, and the U.N. and African Union are to mediate the ceasefire. Then during the ceasefire the sides will meet to talk about the peace process.

To this point, President al-Bashir has been adamantly against having UN troops in Sudan but will, for the first time, allow UN technical troops within his country's borders.

President al-Bashir also committed to investigate reports about sexual violence and to prosecute the crimes. His government will work with UN to look at the many acts of gender violence, and start helping humanitarian groups and assigning troops to their convoys so they can deliver food and medicine.

Governor Richardson also felt that an important achievement was that President al-Bashir also committed that he’d paint his military aircraft some color other than white (U.N. aircraft are painted white). Previously no one was able to detect the difference between U.N. planes and those sent on military missions. Humanitarian groups thought this would help them enormously in getting supplies in. President al-Bashir also agreed to cut the red tape with humanitarian workers, allowing them to better do their work, and committed to allow journalists into the country to report on the situation in Darfur.

Governor Richardson also pointed out that with visits by high-profile celebrities like George Clooney and Don Cheadle putting a focus on Darfur, along with the work of the Save Darfur Coalition, President al-Bashir is finding himself under intense scrutiny for how he is handling the matter. The people of Sudan are taking notice and the Darfur situation is becoming a political issue.

The Save Darfur Coalition also informed the rebel groups that they are part of the problem, wagin war and committing atrocities against women and children, and in Richardson's words "need to behave."

Governor Richardson expressed his hope that President al-Bashir would stand by the agreements, given that they released a joint statement in writing.

At the end of the call, Governor Richardson implored the participants to learn about the problems in Darfur, and for bloggers to shed additional light on the subject. He called it "one of the huge tragedies in the world".

Governor Richardson also very graciously took questions from our group. The highlight for me was when Ken Bulko of America for Richardson asked him how he pulled off what some people consider a miracle.

Richardson responded that when he was in Congress, President Clinton sent him to meet with Saddam Hussein, and the leaders of Cuba and North Korea (he referred to them as bad guys). Through those experiences he realized his goal was to bring peace or rescue someone. Governor Richardson strongly believes that the key to his diplomatic successes has been that he has connected with these leaders and explained to them why it’s in their interest to behave. With regard to President al-Bashir, Governor Richardson noted:

"With Bashir I told him, you know me, this issue is going to affect the soul of your country. He realizes the effect on his image around the world. He trusts me and I connected with him and appealed to his pragmatic senses. He’s in a bit of a box, everyone is against him, his people in Darfur are unhappy with the leadership. The Save Darfur Coalition was there and was watching, and he gave them visas when he doesn’t normally let them in the country. Both sides were very frank, and hopefully the dialogue will increase in the future."

When asked, Governor Richardson indicated that he will make an announcement on whether he will run for the Presidency in 2008 at the end of January, noting that he has some work to do with the New Mexico Legislature in upcoming days (perhaps selling them on his budget proposal).

And in concluding the call, Governor Richardson called on bloggers to use their power to help save Darfur. He expressed his opinion that blogs have an important role in the process, from raising funds for humanitarian groups to operate in Darfur to shining a bright light on these important issues.

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