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US vice-presidential candidates want no-fly zone over Darfur

By Daniel Van Oudenaren

October 3, 2008 (WASHINGTON) – The United States vice-presidential candidates from both major political parties expressed support for imposing a no-fly zone over Darfur in a live televised debate Thursday evening.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talk after the vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri October 2, 2008. (Reuters)

The Democratic candidate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, and the Republican candidate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, agreed on the need to stop what the candidates called either "genocide" or "atrocities" in Darfur.

Such a no-fly zone would mean that U.S. Air Force or Navy planes would patrol the airspace over Darfur to prohibit military aircraft flights. Offensive air operations over Darfur by the government of Sudan are already prohibited by a UN Security Council Resolution.

The debate moderator, Gwen Ifill of PBS, referred to Biden as an "interventionist," asking, "you argued for intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, initially in Iraq and Pakistan and now in Darfur, putting U.S. troops on the ground. Boots on the ground – is this something the American public has the stomach for?"

Biden responded, "I think the American public has the stomach for success." He continued by referencing his record of recommendations on Bosnia, where the American military intervened to stop killings in a war between three ethnic groups – Bosnians, Croats and Serbs.

"They saved tens of thousands of lives," Biden said of his recommendations. "And initially John McCain opposed it along with a lot of other people. But the end result was it worked. Look what we did in Bosnia. We took Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, being told by everyone – I was told by everyone that this would mean that they had been killing each other for a thousand years, it would never work. There’s a relatively stable government there now, as in Kosovo," said Biden.

"I don’t have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur," he said. "We can now impose a no-fly zone. It’s within our capacity. We can lead NATO if we’re willing to take a hard stand. We can, I’ve been in those camps in Chad. I’ve seen the suffering, thousands and tens of thousands have died and are dying. We should rally the world to act and demonstrate it by our own movement to provide the helicopters to get the 21,000 forces of the African Union in there now to stop this genocide."

The current peacekeeping mission in Darfur is a joint mission by the African Union and the United Nations. Biden’s reference to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, refers to his belief that a NATO deployment could potentially be more effective than the current peacekeeping effort.

Governor Palin said, "as far as Darfur, we can agree on that also, the support of the no-fly zone, making sure that all options are on the table there also."

"America is in a position to help," said Palin. She cited her role in seeking to divest a $40 billion investment fund of her state, a savings fund called the Alaska Permanent Fund, ensuring that none of the money the state saved in that fund was invested in certain companies doing business in Sudan.

American companies face U.S. legal prohibitions against doing business in Sudan, but activists in the United States have pushed the country to take further economic action against Sudan by not owning any stock of international companies doing business in certain sectors of the Sudanese economy, particularly oil and mineral extraction.

"When I and others in the legislature found out we had some millions of dollars in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars to make sure we weren’t doing anything that would be seen as condoning the activities there in Darfur. That legislation hasn’t passed yet but it needs to because all of us, as individuals, and as humanitarians and as elected officials should do all we can to end those atrocities in that region of the world," said Palin.

The remarks from the vice presidential candidates Thursday night are consistent with the public commitment from both presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, to impose a no-fly zone over Darfur.

Activist organizations had been lobbying intensely for the debate moderator to ask a question about Darfur, mostly through e-mail and letter-writing campaigns.

The presidential election will take place in November, and the next president will be inaugurated in January 2009.

(ST)