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Sudan's Agriculture Head Calls for International Support

Visiting Italy, Sudan Agriculture Minister Mr. Magzoub El-Khalifa says the international community must support efforts made by the government to end the conflicts in his country. He said the government has secured sufficient food for Darfur until July 2005.

Sudan's agriculture minister, Magzoub El-Khalifa, expressed the hope that the recently signed agreement between southern rebels and the Sudanese government would be only the start of a process aimed at resolving other existing problems in his country, namely the situation in Darfur.

He said the international community must support the Sudanese government, helping it decrease its debt and investing in the country. Khartoum, he said, would like to see foreign investors help in the reconstruction of the south and assisting in the management of the country's natural resources.

Mr. El-Khalifa, said the government had worked hard to put an end to the longest war in the history of Africa. The minister said it is in Khartoum's interest for the accord between north and south to hold.

The minister, who also heads the delegation to the peace talks with the rebels in Darfur, added that the government is also committed to resolve the problem in that region.

Mr. El-Khalifa was in Rome for a day to sign a loan granted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development for the west part of Sudan. He spoke to journalists about the food security situation in the Darfur area.

He said the amounts of food in Sudan are satisfactory with some states having surplus food. But, he said, there are four states where there are food deficiencies, including north and west Darfur. He added that through food reserves the government has secured enough food for the region until July 2005.

Mr. El-Khalifa acknowledged that many crops would be left untended in Darfur. People in rural areas live in fear of violent opposition rebel groups. Those who have been displaced are scared to return to their homes. The minister said the situation has improved and the health situation is considered satisfactory, but many still feel threatened by the violence.

He said the government is coordinating with voluntary organizations in the area to supply surplus food from other states to those that need it. But he agreed that there is still looting and insecurity in the region which creates difficulties in transporting the assistance.

Referring then to the recent suggestion by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for NATO or EU intervention in Darfur, the minister said, this had no basis because the security situation is continuously improving. The matter should remain under the responsibility of African Union troops because, he said, "they understand our mentality better."

The minister also addressed the issue of bringing to trial those responsible for the incidents in Darfur. He declared that the Sudanese government was in favor of a trial, but by its own courts in Sudan and not by an international court.