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Sudan Accepts International Monitors in War Zone

The State Department says the Sudanese government has told the United States it would agree to accept international monitors to help protect civilians from harm in the country's long-running civil war. The Bush administration last month had broken off a mediation effort because of a government helicopter attack on a World Food Program relief site.

Administration officials say Sudan has not only apologized for February 20 attack, but has agreed in principle to accept an international monitoring presence in the war zone in an effort to prevent further incidents of its kind.

An American effort to mediate an end to Sudan's nearly two-decade-long civil war was suspended last month in an expression of U.S. outrage over the helicopter rocket attack on a World Food Program feeding site in the Upper Nile provincial town of Bieh that killed 17 civilians.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Khartoum government late last month met a U.S. demand for a full accounting of the incident with a written explanation and an apology.

He said the country's foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail listed a number of "concrete steps" the government will take to prevent a repeat of the February incident including centralized control over all military flights.

Mr. Boucher said the government offer to accept international monitors came in follow-on contacts and that southern rebels of the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army or SPLA have yet to agree. But he said even if both sides sign the deal, it will be less important that seeing an actual end to the attacks on civilians that has made the war one of Africa's most brutal:

"Sadly, the history of Sudan is strewn with agreements and commitments that have never been implemented," Mr. Boucher went to to say. "The only way to break this vicious cycle is for the parties to the conflict to live up to their word and for international monitors to confirm compliance on the ground. So that's what we're seeking to do once we have the commitments formally made is to put in place an international verification mechanism with the parties so that we can made sure the commitments are adhered to."

Last month's attack on Bieh and a similar incident at a feeding site ten days earlier had halted the promising U.S. mediation effort led by former U.S. Senator John Danforth, whom President Bush appointed as a special envoy for Sudan last September.

In January, Mr. Danforth and Swiss diplomats arranged a cease-fire agreement covering the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan, a rebel stronghold where hungry civilians have often been cut off from relief supplies.

Sudan's Islamic government and the Christian and animist rebels seeking autonomy for the southern part of the country have been fighting since 1983. Since then, an estimated two million people have died in the warfare and related famine.