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Danforth - New US Envoy to Sudan - 2001-09-06

President Bush has named a special envoy to try to help end civil war in Sudan. Mr. Bush has appointed former Missouri Senator John Danforth.

President Bush says he wants to pursue a just peace in Sudan, bringing stability to a country divided by more than 18-years of fighting. While he has instructed his special envoy to open talks with both sides in the conflict, Mr. Bush says it is up to the government in Khartoum to stop the war. "For nearly two decades, the government of Sudan has waged a brutal and shameful war against its own people. And this isn't right," he said. "And this must stop. The government has targeted civilians for violence and terror. It permits and encourages slavery. And the responsibility to end the war is on their shoulders. They must now seek the peace, and we want to help."

The President says he has no illusions about the difficulties of ending this battle between the Arab Muslim government and mainly African Christian and animist rebels in the south. "The degree of difficulty is high. Jack Danforth brings a realistic assessment of what is possible, but he also brings a big heart and enormous amounts of energy and a great commitment," Mr. Bush said.

Former Senator Danforth says his job is to see if the Bush Administration can do anything more than it is already doing through normal diplomatic channels. "I believe, as does the President," Mr. Danforth said,"that if there is even the chance that we can help the peace process, we should seriously explore the possibility that America can do so."

While Mr. Danforth says he will work on the peace effort with the European Union and Sudan's neighbors, Egypt and Kenya, he says ending the violence is ultimately up to the Sudanese themselves. "The possibility of peace depends on the will of combatants not on the actions of even the best intentioned outsiders, including the United States. Perhaps America can encourage peace. We cannot cause it."

The Bush Administration has given Sudan a higher priority than most African conflicts, chiefly because of the influence of American religious groups opposed to the practice of slavery in the South. Some of those groups have gone to Sudan to buy slaves and free them. It is a practice that some human rights groups say only fuels the cycle of slave traders taking more slaves.

The list of failed efforts to seek peace in Sudan is a long one. Currently, the most promising dialogue is about a regional initiative to hold a referendum on greater political autonomy for the South. But there is disagreement over who would be eligible to vote in that referendum. The dispute revolves around people who have been fighting the government, but live in areas traditionally considered Northern Sudan.

More than two million people have been killed in Sudan's civil war. The U.S. State Department says Mr. Danforth will travel to the region later in the year to assess the situation. His initiative includes as much as $30 million dollars in humanitarian assistance.