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US Links Progress on Darfur to Closer Sudan Ties - 2004-05-21

A senior U.S. diplomat said Friday progress on normalizing relations with Sudan is dependent on action by Khartoum authorities to ease the humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region. He said the United States may also seek a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Khartoum government over Darfur.

U.S.-Sudanese relations, virtually severed in the late 1990's, have been on the upswing, propelled by anti-terrorism cooperation since 2001 and progress in talks on ending Sudan's long-running north-south civil war.

However, a senior U.S. diplomat said that the Bush administration has linked further progress on normalization to the situation in Darfur, where he said hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in danger of starvation within the next few months.

As many as one million people have been made homeless in the western Sudanese region by a conflict that began more than a year ago, pitting local rebels against Sudanese forces and government supported-Arab militiamen.

The diplomat said the United States is pressing Khartoum authorities in every available forum, including the north-south peace talks in Kenya, for an end to the Darfur fighting, the introduction of an African Union-led monitoring force and for access to Darfur by relief workers and supplies.

He said the U.N. Security Council will hold a briefing on Darfur next Wednesday, which will be followed by a statement from the council president demanding a halt to the violence.

He said if there is no response, the United States may seek a full scale Security Council resolution condemning Sudan and re-imposing international sanctions that were lifted four years ago, though he acknowledged there is European and Arab resistance to such an idea.

A U.S.-brokered agreement nominally providing for a cease-fire and humanitarian access to Darfur was reached early last month in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena.

However, the diplomat said reports from the remote region indicate that attacks by the "Jinjaweit" militiamen, who have been accused of ethnic-cleansing tactics against black African villagers, are continuing and that refugees are still flowing across the border into Chad.

The U.S. official said there is a better-than-even chance that the north-south Sudanese peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya will come to a successful conclusion within the next two weeks and that this could have positive repercussions for Darfur.

The pending agreement provides for six years of autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist southern Sudan, to be followed by a referendum on the political future of the region.

The diplomat said a long-awaited north-south agreement would give added attention and impetus to Darfur peace efforts and also provide a model for settling local grievances there.