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US Envoy to Sudan Fails to Secure UN Peackeepers in Darfur

The governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, has wrapped up a four-day trip to Sudan as head of a delegation from U.S.-based advocacy group, the Save Darfur Coalition. Richardson did not accomplish his goal of persuading Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to accept U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, but did broker a ceasefire between the Sudanese Government and Darfur rebels. For VOA, Noel King has this report from Khartoum.

Governor Richardson told reporters in Khartoum on Wednesday that he has secured a 60-day ceasefire between the government of Sudan and rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement.

Although previous attempts at a ceasefire in the war-torn region have failed to stem violence, Richardson said he is optimistic about the chances of the new agreement.

"President Bashir agreed to the start of a peace process that includes a 60-day cessation of hostilities," he said. "All parties must agree to the ceasefire. Rebel leaders I spoke to said they would."

The ceasefire will proceed under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations though it is unclear when the cessation of hostilities will enter into effect.

It is equally unclear if the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels will live up to their end of what is, at present, only a verbal agreement.

Darfur's fragmented rebel movements have splintered even further in recent months, casting some doubt on the ability of a ceasefire to halt violence on the ground.

Sudan's military campaign against the rebels has lead to civilian casualties and displaced thousands of people.

Governor Richardson also pressed al-Bashir to drop his resistance to United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur.

Richardson met with al-Bashir in Khartoum on Monday and Wednesday, but failed to secure an agreement on the issue of U.N. troops.

Sudan has likened U.N. efforts to enter Darfur, to colonization.

The international community has pressured Sudan to allow a U.N. mission to replace the struggling African Union (AU), which has suffered from funding problems and a weak mandate.

The AU has only about 7,000 peacekeepers patrolling a remote area the size of France.

The United Nations Security Council voted in August to send more than 20,000 troops to the region to replace the African Union mission.

Sudan has sent conflicting signals on whether it will eventually allow a large U.N. presence in the region.

At present Sudan has agreed to allow around 100 United Nations staff to provide technical and logistical support to the AU in Darfur.

The Darfur conflict, soon to enter its fourth year, began when rebels attacked government positions complaining that the region remained undeveloped due to neglect by Sudan's powerful central government.

Sudan is charged with arming Arab militias to crush the rebellion using a savage campaign of rape and murder, targeting civilians.

At least 200,000 people are believed to have died during the conflict.

More than 2.5 million others have been displaced in Darfur and eastern Chad.