U.S. officials say Secretary of State Colin Powell will press Sudanese leaders in weekend talks in Kenya for action to end the conflict in Darfur. Mr. Powell is in Nairobi to attend signing ceremonies for an accord ending Sudan's more than two decade-long north-south civil war.
The Nairobi ceremony on Sunday is ostensibly a celebration of the end of the Sudanese civil war, Africa's longest-running conflict. But officials here say Mr. Powell, in the final stop on what is likely his last overseas mission, will be pressing Sudanese authorities to end the fighting in Darfur, which continues despite a nominal cease-fire accord and African Union peace efforts.
The secretary will meet in the Kenyan capital with, among others, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, Vice President Ali Osman Taha who has been the lead negotiator in the north-south talks, and southern rebel leader John Garang, who will become first vice president under a new power-sharing arrangement.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli called the north-south peace accord, to which Secretary Powell devoted considerable time and effort, a historic achievement. At the same time, he rejected a suggestion the Bush administration is neglecting Darfur, which said is an issue of "utmost importance:"
"We are not turning a blind-eye to it,” he said. “To the contrary, we are working to leverage the achievement of a north-south agreement to not only bring pressure and bring focus and bring attention to the problem in Darfur, but to perhaps use some of the positive things coming out of the north-south agreement, and the positive mechanisms and ways of dealing with problems, and apply them to Darfur and make progress on that issue as well."
Under the north-south agreement, achieved after two years of Kenyan-led mediation, the Khartoum government and the southern rebel movement will share power and resources, including oil revenue, and merge their armed forces.
After six years, the south will hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan.
U.S. officials say they hope the Nairobi accord can be a model for a peace accord in Darfur, where autonomy-seeking rebels in the western region took up arms against the Khartoum government in early 2003.
Spokesman Ereli said Mr. Powell will "press hard," in his meetings in Nairobi for an immediate end to the violence in Darfur so that, among other things, the World Health Organization can carry out a planned immunization drive in the region next week.
He also said the United States will host informal talks at its U.N. mission in New York on how the world community can "capitalize on the momentum" provided by the north-south agreement to address the Darfur problem.
African Union peace talks in Darfur are to resume in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, January 21. With logistical help from the United States, the AU now has about 1,100 truce monitors and protective troops in Darfur, a force expected to be augmented in the coming days by 600 additional troops from Nigeria and Senegal.