The United States Monday called on the Sudanese government to act to bring to end what the State Department terms a "troubling" upsurge of violence in Sudan's western Darfur region. Senior U.S. diplomats will be visiting the region in coming weeks to try to help shore up the Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abjuja.Officials here are lamenting the latest surge in Darfur violence, which has muted hopes for peace in Sudan which were running high as recently as July with the installation of the government of national unity in Khartoum.
But the process was jarred by the July 30 death in a helicopter crash of southern rebel leader John Garang, who had just become the country's vice president.
And weeks of relative calm in Darfur have been shattered by a renewal of violence since mid-September, including an attack on a displaced persons camp last week, blamed on government-backed Arab Janjaweed militiamen, that left more than 40 people dead.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday the United States has been in contact with the Sudanese government on what he termed the "troubling" events in Darfur, and is urging it as well as other parties to do what they can to end the violence.
In a briefing for reporters, the State Department's special envoy for Sudan, Roger Winter, who has just completed a mission to the region, said all the Darfur parties bear some responsibility for the latest incidents:
"It seems clear that both the rebels, and the government, and the Janjaweed, you know all the elements within the security picture, have all initiated attacks at various times and various locations the last couple weeks," Mr. Winters says. "So, there's no 100 per cent good guy in the mix right now. We want them all to abide by the N'Djamena cease-fire of last year, and can't understand how the talks can really go forward while this level of violence is maintained."
Mr. Winter, a member of the U.S. team that helped negotiate the north-south Sudanese peace accord reached last January, promised continued high-level U.S. engagement on Darfur.
He said he will return to the area, including a stop in Abuja, within two weeks and that Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will undertake a similar mission in November.
Mr. Winter said prospects for the Abuja negotiations have been clouded by the latest attacks and a split within one of the Darfur rebel factions, the Sudanese Liberation Movement or SLM, that is to negotiate with Khartoum officials.
But he nonetheless said progress in the Darfur talks is possible.
"Abuja is do-able. The idea of a moderate, a moderated as it were, government of national unity," Mr. Winters says. "The idea of all of the rebel elements being present and the SLM elements being unified. It is within reaching distance. I don't think we've fully absorbed yet the implications of this recent violence for destabilizing the situation and what the intention of the parties was that caused this to happen. But this is do-able.
The U.S. envoy said suspicions that the death of John Garang was anything other than accidental have been, or should be, put to rest by the recent release of cockpit evidence in the helicopter crash, which occurred in foul weather July 30th along the border between Sudan and Uganda.
Mr. Winter said Mr. Garang's successor in the unity government, longtime southern rebel figure Salva Kiir Mayardit, lacks his late colleague's negotiating experience and political stature but in his words, "is going to do fine."