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US Envoy Returns to Sudan for Darfur Talks

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, returned to that country Friday in a new effort to expedite deployment of an upgraded peacekeeping force for the Darfur region. The proposed hybrid African Union and United Nations force remains under-subscribed. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say Ambassador Natsios will spend as many as ten days in Sudan, meeting with officials of the Khartoum government and visiting Darfur, where security conditions are said to be again deteriorating.

Under an agreement reached last November with Sudan, a 20,000-member joint force of United Nations and African Union troops is to be sent to Darfur to replace an under-funded and poorly equipped A.U. observer mission.

Though the Sudanese government of President Omar el-Bashir nominally accepted the three-phased deployment late last year, it has since been sending mixed signals about whether it will admit the troops.

Sudan's good faith cannot be put to the test until the United Nations raises the requisite number of troops, and thus far that process is lagging and far behind schedule.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration is pressing on two fronts -- to get Sudan to admit the troops, and to get would-be peacekeeping countries to confirm their contributions.

He said, "We are pushing on the Sudanese, we as well as others, to make sure those forces are able to deploy in the areas they need to deploy to, and push on the Sudanese to do everything that they can to stop the violence and implement the Darfur peace agreement."

"But there's also an international aspect to this and we encourage the U.N. to work with more dispatch, and we also encourage member states to step up and meet the request that the U.N. has outstanding for more troops," he added.

Natsios, the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, last visited Sudan in December.

His mission more recently took him to China, where he urged the Beijing government to use its considerable economic leverage with Sudan to help speed deployment of the peacekeepers.

The latest Natsios visit follows an unprecedented move by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the I.C.C., which Tuesday charged a Sudanese government official and an Arab militia leader with a string of war crimes in Darfur.

The Bush administration opposed the creation of the I.C.C. because of jurisdictional concerns. But last year it endorsed the court's role in prosecuting war crimes in Darfur, which the State Department said in 2004 amounted to genocide.

The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 with an uprising by local rebels. The Khartoum government responded by backing Arab militias in a scorched-earth campaign against rebels and perceived supporters that has left more than 200,000 villagers dead and made more than two million homeless.

The head of the A.U. mission in Darfur said Friday security in the western Sudanese region was again deteriorating, with violence blamed on inter-tribal rivalries, militia attacks, and common banditry.