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New Sudanese VP in Egypt on First Foreign Trip

Sudan's new first vice president, who succeeded a former rebel leader killed in a helicopter crash, has made his first trip abroad since taking office to Egypt. The Sudanese official met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Salva Kiir says he chose Egypt for his first foreign visit as vice president because Sudan and its northern neighbor have such a long, intertwined history. After meeting with President Mubarak, the new Sudanese vice president said they discussed how Egypt can help support the Sudanese peace agreement that brought Mr. Kiir's southern rebel movement into government.

Mr. Kiir acknowledged that Sudan faces many challenges on the road to a lasting peace. He pointed to the remaining armed groups in the south who have not joined the peace process, saying they must be brought on board, if the peace agreement his group signed with the government is to succeed.

"Before implementing the agreement we will have to resolve the issue of the other armed groups who are still carrying arms, and if they are left out of this peace agreement, then they will make problems in the south, and that will affect the whole agreement," he said.

Mr. Kiir was sworn in as vice president about three weeks ago, succeeding John Garang who died in a plane crash. The charismatic Mr. Garang had led their rebel movement, the SPLM, for many years before reaching a peace deal with the government and then taking up the post of first vice president in the country's first unity government, just shortly before he died.

Mr. Kiir is considered somewhat less of a unifying figure than his predecessor. He actually may be more popular than Mr. Garang among southerners, but many northerners are suspicious of him, both for the same reason. He is perceived as a supporter of secession for southern Sudan.

But now that he is vice president of the country and head of the SPLM, he is downplaying thoughts of secession.

"Being in the leadership of the movement, we will still maintain that position that Sudan will remain one," he added. "But changes must be made so that no citizen will feel that [he or she] being marginalized in his or her own country. This is our position."

He also said one of the many obstacles is the presence of a Ugandan rebel group, currently based in southern Sudan.

"We have also the problems of the Lord's Resistance Army, who are based in southern Sudan," he explained. "We will have to solve that, because they will have to seek a negotiated settlement like what we did in Sudan. Or if not, then they will have to look for another country where they can launch their operations against Uganda, but not in southern Sudan. Otherwise, we will not have peace."

He also said the continuing crisis in the western Darfur region of Sudan must be solved, and he said both parties in government are committed to doing that, although he mentioned no details. After peace is firmly established, he said, comes the enormous task of resettling vast numbers of internally displaced people and refugees who have settled in neighboring countries, including Egypt.

On his brief trip to Egypt, Mr. Kiir also met with the head of Egyptian intelligence, and with Arab League Secretary-General Arm Moussa.