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US Presses Sudan to Halt Darfur Violence

Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick met Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail Thursday, urging Khartoum to curb violence in Darfur. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets the Sudanese official Friday.

The Bush administration lists the Sudan government as a state supporter of terrorism, and accused it of complicity in a genocide campaign in the western Darfur region.

But is has kept open direct dialogue with Khartoum authorities, and Mr. Zoellick's State Department meeting with Mr. Ismail was their third encounter since the beginning of the year.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the meeting lasted 90 minutes and focused on Darfur. There, he said, the Deputy Secretary stressed the need for all parties to end violence, to facilitate humanitarian aid, and to remove any obstacles to the expansion of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Spokesman Ereli said they also reviewed efforts to finalize the north-south Sudan peace accord concluded earlier this year.

He said Mr. Zoellick, who visited Sudan three weeks ago, is ready to pay a return visit for the installation of a new national unity government if implementation of the peace accord continues as planned.

"The Deputy Secretary talked about the possibility of his going to Khartoum for the July 9th inauguration of the Government of National Unity," said Mr. Ereli. "That trip would be made if the process of forming the government remains on track and, if he did go, he would expect to visit Darfur again as well."

The United States was an ardent supporter of the Kenyan-mediated peace talks that produced the January 9 agreement aimed at ending the north-south civil war, Africa's longest-running conflict.

U.S. officials say the power-sharing arrangements between the Islamic government in Khartoum and the mainly Christian and animist southern rebel movement could provide a model for resolving the Darfur conflict, where local rebels took up arms against the central government in early 2003.

Spokesman Ereli said Mr. Zoellick and Foreign Minister Ismail also discussed other conflict issues in Sudan.

That includes fighting in the eastern part of the country along the Eritrean border, where members of the Beja Congress group and other rebels have seized control of a slice of Sudanese territory, claiming they have been marginalized by Khartoum authorities.

They also discussed the status of the Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group accused of severe human rights violations including mass kidnappings of children. Ugandan authorities claim the group has been given support and occasional refuge in Sudan.

Spokesman Ereli said Mr. Ismail told Deputy Secretary Zoellick his government considers the Lord's Resistance Army Sudan's enemy, and that he described various steps Sudan is taking against it.

Secretary of State Rice is due to meet Mr. Ismail privately Friday afternoon, the first Washington meeting at that level since her predecessor, Colin Powell met the Sudanese foreign minister in May of 2003.