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UN Representative Urges West to Maintain Pressure on Sudan

The Sudanese government and rebels in southern Sudan have vowed to sign a peace accord by New Year's Eve. Despite that pledge, the U.N. special representative for Sudan says the international community must continue to pressure the Khartoum government to stop the violence in the western Darfur region.

The international community has devoted significant time and resources to ending the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan that has claimed more than two million lives. Now, it appears that both sides in the conflict may be close to signing a peace accord which would put an end to the violence.

But Jan Pronk, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Sudan, say that does not mean the world should ignore the conflict raging in western Sudan. Mr. Pronk say the security council must enforce its past resolution that called on Sudan to halt attacks on civilians and disarm government-backed militias operating in Darfur. Mr. Pronk says that a failure to do so will weaken the international community in the eyes of Khartoum.

"Politically, everybody only looks at the last resolution. And for that reason I think it would be very wise for members of the Security Council to take action on the basis of noncompliance with penalty elements of the previous resolutions rather than only looking at compliance with the last resolution. The important this is show that past resolutions are still valid," he said.

Mr. Pronk addressed a standing room only crowd on Friday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

He praised the decision by John Danforth, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to hold a Security Council meeting in Nairobi last month. He said the council's presence on the African continent was crucial to getting both the Sudanese government and rebels in southern Sudan to pledge to sign a peace accord by December 31 that would put an end to fighting.

Ending the conflict in Sudan, Africa's longest-running civil war, is seen as a critical step toward resolving the bloody, nearly two year-old rebellion in the western Darfur region of Sudan. The conflict pitting black African rebels against the Arab-led government in Khartoum and government-backed militias has been described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Mr. Pronk faulted the Security Council for failing to address the Darfur crisis during its November meeting saying the two issues must be dealt with simultaneously. "You have to deal with the problems of Sudan in a balanced manner whereby you see that everything is linked to each other," he said.

The African Union currently has three thousand peacekeepers in Darfur, an area the size of France, to monitor a cease-fire agreement between the government and rebel fighters. AU peacekeepers have reported cease-fire violations by all sides and Friday the AU issued a report warning the region could soon explode as rival factions engage in an arms buildup.

But a Sudanese government spokesman Majzoub Al-Khalifa told VOA that its military has only been engaging in self-defense. "We have instructed our troops to stop the operation and they did with the exception that in one area where they stopped the operation they were faced by attacks again this morning and so they responded to this attack themselves," he said.

Despite the continuing violence in Darfur, Mr. Pronk said he is optimistic that a peace between Khartoum and the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, can be reached by the end of the year.