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Rwandan President to Visit Darfur

Rwanda's president is in Sudan for three days of meetings with Sudanese officials. He is likely to visit the war-torn Darfur region during his trip.

The Rwandan Minister of State for Cooperation, Protais Mitali, told VOA that President Paul Kagame is in Sudan to discuss bilateral relations with his Sudanese counterpart, Omar el-Bashir.

"Our two ministers of foreign affairs will sign an agreement of cooperation about different issues like agriculture, irrigation, trade, energy," he said.

Mr. Mitali said it is likely that Mr. Kagame and the Sudanese president will talk about the Darfur conflict and meet with the several-hundred Rwandan troops stationed there with the African Union peace force.

"They can discuss the situation in Darfur because, as you know, we have a force there. We have around 300 people [there]. It will be an opportunity for His Excellency to visit them, to see how they are, the problems they have, etc. etc," he added.

The primary mandate of the AU troops in the war-torn region of western Sudan is to protect military observers monitoring a ceasefire that the government and two rebel groups signed last year.

At the time Rwanda sent troops to Darfur last August, Mr. Kagame had said he and his country would not stand by and watch innocent civilians being killed in Darfur.

Mr. Kagame made reference to Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Although the United Nations had a force in Rwanda, it lacked the mandate to stop the killings.

There has been intense debate about whether or not the Darfur conflict can be called genocide, with the United States saying it is and the United Nations stopping short of using that label.

The two rebel groups say they are fighting for the economic and social rights of Darfur. They, and others, accuse the Sudanese government of supporting a pro-Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which carries out brutal attacks against the local population.

The Sudanese government calls the rebels hooligans and criminals and denies supporting the Arab militia.

The two-year-old Darfur conflict has claimed more than 50,000 lives and displaced more than one million people.