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Sudan's FM Says Darfur Security Improving

Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail says security in Darfur is gradually improving and will get even better as soon as extra African Union troops will be in place later this summer. The minister was speaking in Rome where he met with Italian political leaders and businessmen.

The Sudanese foreign minister's talks in Rome focused on the peace process in his country, regional matters including Somalia, bilateral and international issues. He met with his Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini and members of Italy's business community and insisted the situation in his country is improving.

Mr. Ismail said now that the government has signed a peace accord with the rebels, the situation in the south is stable. He said refugees are returning to their villages, but acknowledged many were disappointed to find lack of food and poor infrastructure.

But he said things would change. The Sudanese government, he said, has earmarked eight billion dollars to upgrade infrastructure. Soon, he added, a new government will be in place.

"On the 9th July we are going to celebrate the starting of the interim period and on the 9th July the president will take the oath in Khartoum," Mr. Ismail said. "Dr. John Garang (the leader of the SPLA southern rebels), will take the oath in Khartoum and then together they will start to establish the new government within a month.

The foreign minister expressed certainty that the signed peace accords will have a positive effect on other parts of Sudan. Speaking of Darfur, he said the situation there cannot be resolved militarily, because the rebels represent only 10 percent of the population.

"The situation in Darfur, humanitarian-wise is getting better. Security-wise we are expecting the African forces by August to be double, to be round about seven thousand seven hundred," Mr. Ismail said. "That will help security, which is improving now."

Mr. Ismail encouraged businessmen to invest in Sudan saying there are many opportunities, especially in the energy sector. In his words, Sudan "is sitting on an oil lake" waiting to be exploited. He said production over the next three years is expected to increase from the current 500,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million barrels a day.

The minister said discussions in Rome also focused on regional issues including Somalia. He said the African Union has decided Sudan and Uganda should be the first two countries to send troops to Somalia.

In talks with Italian Foreign Minister Fini, Mr. Ismail said he supports Italy's position with respect to the reform of the United Nations Security Council. He said regional representation is what is needed in an expanded council.

"We don't feel that Germany should get into the Security Council on an individual basis because we already have three Europeans of five permanent members," Mr. Ismail said.

He said giving Germany permanent representation on the council would amount to domination of the Europeans over Third World countries.