U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will represent the United States at signing ceremonies in Kenya Sunday for accords ending Sudan's long-running north-south civil war. Mr. Powell will go to Nairobi after completing a tour of tsunami-ravaged countries in Asia.
Mr. Powell, who will step down as secretary of state later this month, has invested considerable time and effort in the search for peace in Sudan.
Officials say the visit to Kenya, probably the final stop on his final overseas mission, is intended to underline U.S. support for the hard-won north-south peace accord, and lend impetus to the drive for a settlement of the Darfur conflict.
Aides to the secretary announced the Kenya visit in Jakarta, where he took part in an international aid conference on the December 26 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Mr. Powell will fly to Nairobi after completing the Asian mission with a visit to Sri Lanka on Friday.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli called the agreement to be signed Sunday a "watershed" in the search for peace in Sudan.
He said Mr. Powell's visit will be an opportunity to convey to the Khartoum government and all other parties the value the United States places on resolving the country's remaining political differences through dialogue and negotiation, not violence:
"As far as what it portends for the future, that really depends on the Sudanese, and the actions that they take to resolve the other ongoing conflict in their country, which is the conflict in Darfur," he said. "Fighting there continues. There is obviously, as we all know, a very concerted and determined effort by the international community, in the front ranks of which is the United States, to bring that conflict to an end."
Mr. Ereli said the degree to which the Khartoum government moves to settle the Darfur conflict, and end "rampant human rights abuses" there, will have a large bearing on the future shape of U.S.-Sudanese relations.
The north-south conflict, pitting the Islamic government in Khartoum against mainly Christian and animist rebels seeking autonomy for the south, erupted in 1983. It led to the deaths of more than two million people, mainly from war-related hunger and disease.
The agreement being signed in Nairobi, the product of years of negotiations mediated by Kenya, provides for the sharing of legislative power and natural resources, including Sudan's growing oil revenue.
John Garang, head of the southern rebels, will join a new government of national unity as first vice president.
U.S. officials say they hope the north-south accord can be a model for peace in Darfur, where autonomy-seeking rebels in the western region took up arms against the central government in early 2003.Khartoum authorities responded by backing Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, who have used scorched earth tactics against the rebels and their perceived supporters among the civilian population.