U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Kenya to witness the signing of a peace deal to end a civil war in Sudan that has gone on for almost 22 years. The fighting pitted forces of the Khartoum-backed government in the north against rebels in the south. Mr. Powell said the peace deal may also prove helpful in ending a separate crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Secretary of State Powell told reporters in Nairobi Saturday the north-south peace deal, scheduled to be signed Sunday, signals the start of warming relations between the United States and Sudan.
Mr. Powell also said he expects that the peace deal will lead to a resolution of the Darfur war, a conflict that has been raging for almost two years, killing tens of thousands and displacing over a million more. "I think that this gives us a basis now to redouble our efforts to solve the problem in Darfur. We will stand fully behind this comprehensive agreement and hopefully use it to work on the problem of Darfur," he said.
The United States recently renewed sanctions against Sudan, primarily because of the long-running conflict in the Darfur region.
And Sudan, which at one point was home to international terrorist Osama Bin Laden, continues to be on the United States' list of terrorist states.
But Mr. Powell expressed the hope that Sunday's signing may eventually lead to an end of all U.S. restrictions against Sudan. "But it has to be a deliberate process. We have removed some sanctions over the last several years, and it is our ultimate goal to have normal relations with Sudan, and hopefully step-by-step, in a very deliberate way, we will reach that point," he said.
On Sunday, Mr. Powell is scheduled to witness the signing of the peace deal between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the south's main rebel group.
The deal includes provisions for the two sides to share wealth, power, and merge portions of their two armies into a joint security force.
Mr. Powell said the big challenge now is to rebuild the country after more than two decades of war, especially the oil-rich south. He said the United States has made it clear it would be, in his words, a "partner" in reconstruction.
Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha said the United States has been helpful in the long-running peace talks, which were held for more than two years in Kenya, and said Saturday's meeting with Mr. Powell went well. "We have been encouraged in our meeting with Secretary Powell this afternoon, of the assurance that the U.S. government will still [be] steadfast in supporting the peace era in Sudan," he said.
Rebel leader John Garang, who is set to become Sudan's first vice-president, said he is committed to peace and rebuilding the country.