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US Calls on Sudan to Bring Peace Talks to Successful Conclusion - 2004-04-26

The Bush Administration is calling on Sudanese authorities to fulfill promises to open the war-ravaged western Darfur region to humanitarian aid workers, and to bring peace talks on the country's north-south-civil war to a successful end.

The appeal by Secretary of State Colin Powell to his Sudanese counterpart, Mustafa Osman Ismail, came in a telephone conversation Sunday and reflects growing U.S. concern about violence in Darfur that has continued despite a cease-fire deal reached earlier this month.

Under terms of truce accord reached April 9 in the Chadian capital Ndjamena, the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur were to have ceased hostilities for at least 45 days and given safe access to the area by international relief workers.

However, the State Department said Monday there are continuing reports of lethal violence including the burning of villages, and attacks on camps housing internally-displaced people.

In a talk with reporters, Secretary Powell said he had asked the Sudanese foreign minister to do everything possible solidify the cease-fire and to expedite visas and otherwise facilitate access to Darfur by U.S. and other foreign aid workers. "The situation in Darfur is very bad," he said. "We have tens upon tens of thousands of people who are suffering. The rainy season will come in a few weeks, and we've got to get aid into them before that, the bring this tragedy to an end, before it gets any worse."

The fighting in Darfur, mainly between two rebel groups and government-backed Arab militiamen, began more than a year ago and has displaced nearly one million people, many of whom have fled as refugees into neighboring Chad.

Mr. Powell said he also asked Mr. Ismail to try to expedite Sudan's north-south peace talks, which are said to be nearly complete, but hung up over a handful of remaining issues. Those issues include whether the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, would still be subject to Islamic law after a deal with the mainly-Christian and animist southern rebels.

Mr. Powell said that participants in the Kenyan-mediated talks seem to be getting closer and closer to a comprehensive agreement, but in his words, "never quite get to the end of the game."