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Sudan Refuses to Stop Bombing Civilian Areas

Sudan's government Thursday explained why it is unwilling to halt bombing civilian areas in the south of the country. The government response comes one day after a U.S. special envoy to Sudan said the bombing was the biggest obstacle remaining to a plan to set up peace talks to end years of civil war between the government and rebels based in the south.

The Sudanese government says it can't halt bombing the civilian areas because those areas are where the rebels are.

The charge d'affaires at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, Mohamed Dirdiri, told VOA the rebels have their bases in hospitals, schools and residential areas. "In most of the villages of the south, the hospitals and schools are in fact the only one viable construction in any village to be used as a headquarters for a military garrison so they are using them," he said.

On Wednesday, following talks with Sudanese officials in Khartoum, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, reported he was making progress in efforts to get the government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army to agree to a cease-fire. But he said the government's refusal to stop bombing remained an obstacle.

Mr. Danforth, a former U.S. senator, has been working since late last year to get both sides in Sudan to end 18 years of civil war. So far, the government and the SPLA rebels have agreed to establish what Mr. Danforth calls "zones of tranquillity" for immunization purposes. They have also agreed to set up a commission to investigate allegations that the government enslaves people in the south.

Mr. Danforth said Wednesday that the Sudanese government had until "early spring," when he is due to report back to President Bush, to commit to halting the bombing and to allowing a monitoring mechanism to be set up to ensure there is an end to attacks on civilians.

Mr. Dirdiri, the Sudanese official, believes progress is possible. The charge d'affaires says the Sudanese government greatly appreciates the U.S. effort to bring an end to the civil war. "We feel the United States is the only one superpower which can bring all parties to the table of negotiations and create the will to negotiate and the will to concede and the will to really be forthcoming and positive," he said.

The SPLA rebels in southern Sudan have been fighting for autonomy from the Islamic military government in Khartoum since 1983. More than two million people have died in fighting and related famines.