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Darfur Issue Looms Over China Leader's Visit to  Sudan


Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Khartoum on Friday, as part of an eight-nation tour aimed at strengthening China's ties with its African economic partners. Darfur is also expected to be on the agenda during Hu's visit. Western nations are pushing China to use its leverage to press Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow a U.N. peacekeeping mission into Darfur.

Mr. Hu began his visit with a trip to the Khartoum Oil Refinery - a fitting stop as China currently buys more than half of Sudan's 500,000 barrel per year output.

Due to its thirst for Sudanese oil, China has become Sudan's largest trading partner, investing billions of dollars in oil refineries, pipelines, and northern Sudan's $1.8 billion Merowe dam.

But China has come under fire for its economic ties to Sudan, even as a humanitarian crisis rages in the Darfur region.

Sudan's alleged backing of feared Arab militias known as Janjaweed, which have waged a campaign of rape and murder against African civilians in Darfur, has made it a pariah state in much of the international community.

Western nations have asked China to push Sudan to allow U.N. entry into Darfur.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadiq says he expects that Hu and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will discuss Darfur.

"The visit is mainly about the bilateral relations in economic trade and investment aspects. But no doubt due to the good political relations between the two countries, definitely Darfur will come in," he said.

But al-Sadiq added that he does not expect China to put any pressure on Sudan regarding the U.N. force.

Others are more optimistic that Hu will push Bashir to allow U.N. entry.

Faisal el-Bagir, a human rights activist with the Khartoum Center for Human Rights and Environmental Development, called Mr. Hu's visit an opportunity for Bashir to lower his resistance to the U.N. mission.

This is the last chance. Because if China will not be able to convince Sudan it means that the international community will have to take other action, which means more confrontation.

The Darfur crisis will soon enter into its fourth year.

Experts estimate 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million others have been displaced.

Hu will spend two days in Sudan before departing on Saturday.