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UN Visit to Sudan Asseses Chances for End to Civil War

The U.N. Security Council's trip to Africa has raised hopes, and expectations, for an end to Sudan's 21-year civil war. Council diplomats returned to New York with a sober assessment of their accomplishments.

After traveling nearly halfway around the world to pressure Sudan's warring factions to make peace, Security Council diplomats carefully declined to predict a successful outcome.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, in his capacity as this month's Council president, led the effort. He described as "quite an event" the sight of Sudan's government and southern rebels signing a memorandum of understanding saying they would reach a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of this year. But he cautioned against undue optimism. "Now Sudan is an ongoing saga, not something resolved by signing a single piece of paper, or resolved in a single moment of time. It's an issue that continues to evolve, but I think this was a step in the right direction," he said.

Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali was equally cautious in predicting success after the many failed attempts to bring peace to Sudan. He said it remains to be seen whether the government and southern rebels will keep the promises they made in Nairobi, and during previous peace talks.

But he said a settlement of the conflict in southern Sudan could hold the keys to a settlement of the separate conflict in the western Darfur region. "I'm hopeful that regarding Sudan we will see some progress on both tracks in the near future, in the north-south discussions as well as in the Darfur situation. I think the message of the international community was very strong, and I think it was felt so in Nairobi by those concerned," he said.

The consensus resolution adopted by the Security Council at its Nairobi meeting calls for lasting peace and security in Sudan, but refrains from threatening sanctions. Two previous measures hold out the threat of penalties on Sudan's lucrative oil industry unless the Khartoum government acts to control Arab militias terrorizing villagers in Darfur.

But several Council members -- including veto-wielding China and Russia -- have indicated strong opposition to sanctions. Ambassador Danforth said with sanctions unlikely, other measures -- such as an infusion of African Union peacekeepers and promises of aid -- offer the best hope of an end to both the north-south conflict and the Darfur violence .

"So in the real world what's the possibility for doing some good with regard to Sudan? Well, bringing in the African Union in Darfur is very important, but trying to wrap up the North-South agreement, which everybody believes the North-South peace agreement would be very positive with respect to the situation in Darfur, and in fact keeping the whole country glued together," he said.

Following the Security Council's Nairobi meetings, U.N. officials announced plans to deploy seven thousand peacekeeping troops to southern Sudan. U.N. special envoy Jan Pronk was quoted as saying the troops would be sent to monitor adherence by the two parties for their signed agreements.