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US Clears Way for More Humanitarian Aid to Parts of Sudan

The United States has amended the regulations for its sanctions against Sudan, allowing for more assistance. The announcement comes during a visit to Sudan by U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration.

The Treasury Department is issuing a general license that allows the "exportation and re-exportation of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to specified areas of Sudan."

Those areas include Southern Sudan, Southern Kordofan / Nuba Mountains State, Blue Nile State, Abyei, Darfur and what are called marginalized areas in and around Khartoum.

The change was made by OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control within the Treasury Department. Such amendments are not uncommon when the U.S. wants to clear the way for humanitarian aid for parts of a country that may be at odds with the United States.

The announcement also comes at a time when the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South is showing signs of strain.

"I think it is an interesting and an important step," says Foud Hikmat, special advisor on Sudan and the A.U. for the International Crisis Group, in Nairobi.

After the CPA was signed, he says, funding development programs for Southern Sudan lagged because of the crisis in another region of the country, Darfur. Donors attached conditions to the funds, calling for a settlement there between the government and its militia allies and rebel groups.

Several million people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands killed, in what U.S. officials and others have described as genocide.

"It is important at this…time where Sudan now is really going through a bottleneck. And everybody is concerned whether it is going to come out of this bottleneck into stability or perhaps implode," he says.

Both sides want something

"One of the things that they (ruling party leaders) want is normalization…with the U.S. administration. And as part of this bargaining the U.S. envoy wants to make sure that theCPA does not fall apart…and finding a solution in Darfur, the National Congress Party alsowants something back, something in return," he says.

Normalizing relations would include the lifting of sanctions and removing Sudan from the U.S. list of nations that support terrorists.

"The areas that now are excluded from these sanctions definitely need this money because without the peace dividends (for) the normal citizen, in terms of the social services, in terms of livelihood, the situation is not going to change," Hikmat says.

Sanctions amendment sends message

"Politically, it's giving a message. How significant, of course, remains to be seen…. The biggest problem in Sudan is the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the benchmarks ahead of us, which are the elections and the referendum (in Southern Sudan) and finding a solution to Darfur. So that then Darfur could be…brought into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. At the moment, this is not there," he says.

The referendum is scheduled for 2011 on whether Southern Sudan should break away and become independent.

The ICG advisor describes the situation in Sudan as "serious stagnation."

"If there isn't a breakthrough in the coming period, I think that we'll see Sudan risking sliding into more chaos," he says.

Hikmat and other analysts see a real risk of renewed war in Sudan if the CPA is not fully implemented. The war between the north and south lasted more than 20 years.

"It's not just only the war like before. It might be even bigger than that because it might involve…violence within the north and not just only Darfur, which is going to have serious consequences for Sudan and for the immediate region and for Africa as a whole," he says.