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Deputy Secretary of State to Visit Sudan Next Week

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will visit Sudan next week after representing the United States at the Sudan donors conference in Oslo. Officials say he will raise with Sudanese officials the issue of accountability for Darfur war crimes.

The donors conference next Monday and Tuesday is aimed at helping underwrite implementation of the accord reached in January in Nairobi ending the two-decade north-south civil war between the Khartoum government and southern rebels.

But the issue of war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region will to some extent overshadow the meeting, and is likely to be a major subject in Mr. Zoellick's talks in both Oslo and Khartoum.

At a news briefing Thursday, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that the Deputy Secretary of State will visit the Sudanese capital, and have stops in Darfur, after the donors meeting.

Mr. Zoellick is expected to announce in Oslo a $900 million U.S. pledge for reconstruction and humanitarian aid to reinforce the January peace agreement.

There are reports that the Darfur situation may affect the pledges of some countries taking part in the conference hosted by the Norwegians.

But under questioning, spokesman Boucher said the U.S. view is that implementation of the north-south accord will contribute to a resolution in Darfur, and so reconstruction aid, which would not directly go the Khartoum government in any case, should not be impeded.

"We want to support implementation of north-south accords," Mr. Boucher. "We're not in a position of holding up on Darfur because the north-south is not being implemented, or holding up on north-south implementation because of Darfur. We want to see both things happen because they contribute to and support each other."

Spokesman Boucher stressed the United States' lead role in diplomatic activity on Sudan in the last two weeks at the United Nations.

It sponsored resolutions approved by the Security Council setting up a 10,000 troop peacekeeping mission to support the Nairobi accord, and imposing financial and travel sanctions on those who defy peace efforts in Darfur.

The United States abstained to allow passage of a third resolution authorizing the International Criminal Court to prosecute Darfur war criminals, this despite long-standing U.S. concerns the ICC could be used to conduct politically-motivated trials against American troops or officials overseas.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said early this week he would never give up any Sudanese national for trial outside the country. But spokesman Boucher said the United States expects Khartoum to comply with the resolution.

"I know that the Sudanese government has said various things about the accountability issue," he added. "But the simple fact is that the resolution requires all parties, all governments, to cooperate with the U.N. And that's what the U.N. Security Council as a whole expects of the Sudanese government. There needs to be accountability for these crimes and we all agree on that."

The Oslo donors conference will have participation from Arab and Asian governments in addition of the United States and Europe.

It is expected to set up two multi-donor trust funds administered by the World Bank: one for the new north-south unity government to be set up under the Nairobi accord, and the other for the autonomous administration in southern Sudan.

In addition to the $900 million pledge to be announced by Deputy Secretary Zoellick, the Bush administration is seeking another $400 million for Sudan reconstruction in a supplemental foreign aid request now before Congress. It plans to request a similar amount next year.