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US Governor Visits Darfur; Urges Rebel Groups to Agree to Ceasefire

The governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, visited Sudan's Darfur region on Tuesday in an attempt to get holdout Darfur rebel groups to agree to a 60-day ceasefire with the Sudanese government. Richardson is in Sudan as head of a delegation from a U.S.-based advocacy group, the Save Darfur Coalition. Noel King has more on the story from Khartoum.

Governor Richardson hopes to persuade Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to drop his resistance to a U.N. peacekeeping mission for the embattled region. Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, is also hoping to broker a ceasefire between the Sudanese government and rebel groups.

Richardson met with Mr. al-Bashir in Khartoum on Monday but did not report any progress on the acceptance of U.N. troops, which Sudan has likened to colonial forces.

On Tuesday, the governor focused his efforts on getting Darfur's fragmented rebel groups to enter the peace process.

"First, the fighting has not stopped," he said. "There is chaos in some areas. The most important steps we took today is that we stressed to the rebels that they need to be part of the peace process. We urged them in the strongest terms to join the peace talks."

Sudan has continued a military campaign against the National Redemption Front, a coalition of rebel groups that have refused to sign onto the Darfur Peace Agreement.

Rebel factions in the region have undergone further splintering in recent months, complicating efforts to broker a ceasefire.

Governor Richardson is expected to press hard for the entry of United Nations troops, despite Sudan's fierce resistance to a U.N. mission.

The United Nations Security Council voted in August to send more than 20,000 troops to the region to replace an African Union mission that has struggled with funding problems and a weak mandate.

Sudan has agreed to allow the U.N. to provide technical and logistical support to the cash-strapped AU, which has only 7,000 peacekeepers patrolling a remote area the size of France.

In September, Governor Richardson successfully negotiated the release of an American journalist who was being held in Darfur on charges of espionage after entering the country without a visa.

The Darfur conflict, soon to enter its fourth year, began when rebels attacked government positions. The rebels said that the region remained undeveloped due to neglect by Sudan's powerful central government.

Sudan's government is charged with arming Arab militias to crush the rebellion. At least 200,000 people are believed to have died during the conflict. More than 2.5 million others have been displaced in Darfur or eastern Chad.