The new U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, is making his first visit to the African country to press leaders in Khartoum to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur. The former U.S. foreign aid administrator was named to the envoy post last month.
Officials here say it is a positive sign that Khartoum has apparently placed no limits on where Ambassador Natsios may travel, though they say this does not necessarily signal any easing of the Sudanese government's opposition to accepting the U.N. force for Darfur.
Natsios, who in his previous role as head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, made several trips to Sudan, is making his first mission there since being named by President Bush to the special envoy post September 19.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Natsios would meet senior Sudanese officials in Khartoum and planned to visit the southern Sudanese regional capital of Juba as well as Darfur, in what he described as an assessment mission.
"He's going to assess the situation and try to push our policy position as well as the policy position of the Security Council, and that is to, as first step, allow U.N. peacekeepers into Sudan," he said. "He's probably going to be talking about implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement as well as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement."
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement concluded in early 2005 ended Sudan's decades-long north-south civil war. The Darfur peace accord, signed last May in Nigeria, includes similar power-sharing arrangements but has not been implemented, and violence in the region has been on the increase.
The U.N. Security Council voted at the end of August to set up a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur to replace the current African Union observer mission there.
But the Arab-led Khartoum government of President Omar el-Bashir has refused to accept the U.N. force, which would be three times as large, and better equipped, than the seven thousand member AU mission.
In a policy speech two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the threat of more international sanctions against Sudan if it did not halt military action in Darfur and unconditionally accept the U.N. force.
In a report Thursday in Brussels, the International Crisis Group, an influential organization, said patient diplomacy and trust in the Khartoum government's good faith has been a failure and that it is time for sanctions.
The ICG said sanctions should target Sudan's important oil sector and include asset freezes and travel bans against key Sudanese leaders.
The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which supported Arab militiamen in scorched-earth warfare in the region that led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and displaced millions more.
Secretary Rice sought to enlist Arab pressure on Khartoum to accept the U.N. mission in her trip to the Middle East last week.
The Bush administration would like to see the U.N. force comprised mainly of troops from African, Arab and other Muslim countries to help allay Sudanese concerns about its intentions.