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US Envoy to Sudan Returns for Darfur Meetings, North-South Talks

U.S. special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration returns to the African nation Wednesday for a five day visit. Gration heads to Sudan to continue his mediation of North-South negotiations and to travel to the devastated western region of Darfur.

Ambassador Gration will be making his first stop in Juba, where he will be mediating discussions between representatives of the North's National Congress Party and the South's Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

The talks are a continuation of U.S.-facilitated negotiations that have been ongoing since June. Last month the discussions yielded a signed document resolving a number of the remaining disputes over the implementation of the peace agreement signed in 2005.

The U.S. envoy will then travel to Darfur to meet with representatives of the Darfuri people, including people living in camps for the internally-displaced, as well as leaders of Darfuri civil society groups. He will also talk with the new commander of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, Rwandan General Patrick Nyambumba.

His trip's final destination will be Khartoum, where he plans to meet with the African Union delegation on Darfur headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. The group of former African heads of states is to report its recommendations on resolving the Darfur crisis next week.

Speaking to the Sudanese Radio Omdurman during his visit last month, Gration previewed his upcoming task in this month's North-South talks.

"We have two issues where we need to have further work, consultation," he said. "And that's on the census and the referendum. And so we will continue working with the NCP [National Congress Party] and the SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] to reach agreement on these remaining issues."

The South's independence referendum scheduled for early 2011 was one of the core components of the peace deal which ended the two-decade-long civil war. The legitimacy of the national census results continues to be a point of contention because those numbers are to be used in determining constituencies and regional powers in the elections scheduled for April 2010.

The U.S. envoy also forcasted his upcoming meetings in Darfur.

"Probably the most important piece is giving voice to the civil society," added Gration. "We are working with diaspora leadership, we are working with leadership in the IDP camps and in the refugee camps, and we are working with other organizations that represent the people of Darfur, [as well as] the Zaghawa, the Fur, and other tribes, to ensure that everybody has a voice in the process."

Gration, a Swahili-speaking former U.S. Air Force general who grew up in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama in March as the special envoy to Sudan.

Gration met then-Senator Obama in 2005 and then accompanied the senator during his high profile visit to Kenya in 2006. He later served as a foreign policy advisor for the Obama presidential campaign.