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US Diplomat in Africa Focuses on Peace in Sudan's Darfur Region

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is in Kenya, where he is scheduled to begin talks Tuesday with leaders of the main rebel group in the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan.

Mr. Zoellick's latest trip to Africa is focused on Sudan, where he is trying to strengthen a shaky cease-fire in Darfur.

He also plans to urge more rapid implementation of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed earlier this year to end 21 years of civil war between the Arab Muslim north and the mostly animist and Christian southern part of the country. That war left an estimated two million people dead.

It is the current conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region, however, that is overshadowing the north-south accord.

So far, six rounds of peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, have failed to end the fighting.

Mr. Zoellick told reporters during an in-flight briefing, a recent spike in bloodshed in Darfur is dangerous.

"That violence risks unraveling the very fragile situation in Darfur," he said. "So, there again, we have got to regain the momentum by getting people to respect the cease-fire, and come up with a coherent negotiating position. When the negotiations resume on November 20, we need to get the rebels, as well as the government of national unity to make more progress in a peace accord, because fighting and killing will not provide the solution."

In Darfur, since early 2003, rebel groups, led by the Sudan Liberation Army, have been fighting pro-government militias, called the Janjaweed.

As part of a conflict the Bush administration has labeled "genocide," Janjaweed fighters have terrorized Darfur, killing, raping and burning villages.

These attacks have resulted in a massive movement of people from their homes to sprawling camps, where food, shelter and medical care are often in short supply.

Nearly 7,000 peacekeepers from the African Union have moved into the area, but Deputy Secretary Zoellick says they are not the answer to the crisis.

"All these forces can do is maintain a fragile truce, until there is a peace agreement," he said. "So, I am trying to emphasize the need to get the peace negotiations done. Because, until you get the peace negotiations done, you keep two million people in camps, you have the Janjaweed in there, they are not demobilized, and people can not return [home]."

Mr. Zoellick hopes to bring the Darfur rebel groups together, and convince them to agree to a common negotiating position to take with them, when peace talks with the Khartoum government resume later this month.