The Bush administration is resuming its effort to mediate an end to the civil conflict in Sudan. It had broken off the contacts last month, after a government air attack on a relief site in the southern part of the country.
Officials here say that both the Khartoum government and the southern rebel movement signed an agreement over the weekend that accepts international monitoring in combat areas and clears the way for a resumption of the U.S. mediation mission led by former Senator John Danforth.
The Bush administration had broken off the diplomatic effort last month after a Sudanese government helicopter rocketed a World Food Program feeding site in the south, leaving 17 civilians dead and scores wounded.
The government later apologized for the attack and promised the United States it would centralize control of all air operations.
On Sunday, the government signed the U.S. brokered monitoring accord in Khartoum, while the rebel Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, the SPLA, formalized its agreement in Nairobi.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the deal fulfills U.S. terms for the resumption of the peace process. He said, "We now have an agreement that, along with the changes the Sudanese have promised to make regarding rules of engagement, will permit, we hope, more secure humanitarian activity in Sudan and allow discussions on the way forward in the peace process. The Sudanese government has agreed to an international monitoring mechanism to assure that the agreement is complied with, and that will go forward as well."
Mr. Boucher said the monitoring mechanism for protecting civilians will be an off-shoot of the cease-fire agreement for the disputed Nuba mountains region of the country, concluded by the two sides in January, with U.S. and Swiss diplomatic help.
He said the United States and Switzerland, along with several other European countries and Canada, have committed to raise $15 million to pay for the monitoring unit. He said the observer group will consist of 15 active duty and retired military personnel and staff and will be headed by a Norwegian officer.
He said its members will be armed, but for self-protection only.
Senator Danforth is preparing a report for President Bush on the results of his peace mission thus far, and Mr. Boucher gave no indication when he might resume active mediation efforts.
He said the State Department's top African affairs official, Assistant Secretary Walter Kansteiner, expects to meet in the next few days with SPLA leader John Garang, who is on a private visit to the United States.