President Bush has certified to Congress that the Sudanese government is negotiating in good faith with southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), for an end to the country's 20 year civil war. The certification is required under the Sudan Peace Act passed by Congress last October, and spares the Khartoum government the prospect of U.S.-led sanctions.
The decision reflects satisfaction among top Bush administration officials with the progress of the Sudan peace talks being mediated by Kenya and sponsored by the east African regional grouping IGAD, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.
Last July, the Islamic government in Khartoum and the SPLM agreed during talks in the Kenyan town of Machakos that the mainly Christian and animist south would have autonomy for six years after which a referendum would be held to decide the region's political future.
Follow-on negotiations are now in a fourth round in Nairobi, and are focussing on the status of three regions claimed by both sides, the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abeyeyi.
In a briefing for reporters here, a senior administration official said there has been "real progress" in the talks, underlined by a face-to-face meeting between Sudanese President Omar Hasan al-Bashir and rebel leader John Garang in Kenya earlier this month.
He said much remains to be done, but that the overall level of violence has declined markedly, humanitarian access to contested areas has vastly improved, and that tangible strides were being made on power-sharing issues.
President Bush is required to report every six months on the progress of the negotiations under the Sudan Peace Act approved overwhelmingly by Congress last October.
Had he not been able to certify good faith on the part of the Khartoum authorities, the administration would have been required to downgrade relations with the government, oppose international loans, and seek an arms embargo against it at the United Nations.
In a statement, Mr. Bush said both sides are negotiating in good faith and negotiations should continue. At the same time, he said sporadic military activities, mainly by the government, have hindered peace efforts and must stop.
The president, hailing what he called the "invaluable" mediation efforts by Kenya, said it is time to move the peace process "to a new level" where "actions of both parties replace promises as the measure of their commitment to peace."
He said President Bashir and SPLM leader Garang must demonstrate the necessary leadership so that the two sides refrain from hostile and provocative action, complete negotiations on outstanding issues, and sign and implement a comprehensive agreement.
Underway since 1983, the Sudan conflict has killed an estimated two million people, mainly through war-induced famine and disease, and displaced millions more. The Sudan Peace Act authorized $300 million in U.S. aid to war victims over a three-year period.