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Bush Meets Leader of Sudan's South

U.S. President George Bush met Thursday at the White House with Sudan's First Vice President Salva Kiir to discuss efforts to keep the country's peace process on track and end violence in the troubled Darfur region. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

U.S. National Security Council Spokesman Gordon Johndroe says the two men discussed ways to reinvigorate Sudan's comprehensive peace agreement between the government in Khartoum and southern rebels.

Johndroe says Kiir thanked the president for his help in negotiating the peace agreement and his continued commitment to its success. In addition to his post in the national government, Kiir is also the president of southern Sudan, which became a semi-autonomous region under the 2005 peace deal.

Johndroe says President Bush encouraged Kiir to continue his efforts to unite rebels in Darfur in their attempts to forge a unified political settlement with Khartoum.

The two men met privately in the Oval Office and did not speak to reporters.

The deal that ended 21 years of civil war in Sudan continues to face obstacles with former rebels led by Kiir demanding the withdrawal of northern Sudanese troops from the south. The former fighters also want more control over oil-producing regions in their areas.

Those conflicts led the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to withdraw its ministers from the national government last month.

White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino says President Bush would like to see more cooperation from Khartoum in the deployment of a planned United Nations peacekeeping force to relieve an undermanned African Union force already in Darfur.

A joint UN/AU force of 26,000 is expected to be on the ground next year. The head of UN peacekeeping says that force could fail unless Khartoum stops blocking deployments from armies outside Africa including units from Thailand, Nepal, and Nordic countries.

Violence in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced an additional 2.5 million since 2003.