The U.S. House of Representatives has approved, 359 to 8, legislation aimed at pressuring both sides in Sudan's long civil war to continue peace negotiations. The Sudan Peace Act provides for economic sanctions and other penalties against Sudan's Islamic government in particular, if it fails to continue peace talks with rebels in the South.
The legislation requires the Bush administration to use all means of pressure to force the Sudanese government to negotiate in good faith with southern-based rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
It authorizes $300-million in aid over three years for areas not controlled by the central government in Khartoum, in the words of the resolution, to prepare the population for peace and democratic governance.
President Bush is directed to report to Congress every six months whether the Sudanese government and rebels are negotiating in good faith. If he determines Khartoum is blocking progress, or interfering with relief efforts, the legislation directs him to take a number of steps.
These include opposing international loans and credits to Sudan, denying the government of Sudan access to oil revenues, seeking a U.N. arms embargo, and downgrading or suspending diplomatic relations.
The bill requires southern rebels to do their part, adding that any failure by the SPLM to do so would negate any sanctions imposed on Khartoum.
However, critics of Sudan's government are disappointed that a provision aimed at putting even more pressure on Khartoum was dropped. It would have barred foreign companies operating in Sudan from raising funds in U.S. capital markets.
Human rights groups and aid organizations said depriving companies access would have been most effective in preventing Khartoum from using oil profits for military purposes.
The provision ran into strong opposition from the White House, which called it political interference in markets and the legislation was softened.
Laura Barrett, of the American Anti-Slavery Group, which has worked to focus attention on human rights violations in Sudan, spoke with VOA. "It takes a certain amount of power out of the legislation," she said. "However, this is a great first step in putting Sudan on notice that the United States is watching every step of the peace process, and that we're very concerned that Khartoum is not continuing with enslaving the southern population and prosecuting this war."
Supporters of the legislation acknowledge the bill is weaker than a version previously approved by the House.
However, lawmakers such as Republicans Chris Smith of New Jersey and Spencer Bachus of Alabama, say the bill does establish a link between oil revenues and Sudan government military capabilities:
"Oil has been facilitating this war and we have got to be very clear that any way we help or enable the production of oil in Sudan means that more innocent people will lose their lives," Mr. Smith said.
"For the first time there will be a link made between the genocide and slaughter in Sudan, and oil money," said. Mr. Bachus.
The House legislation also condemns the Khartoum government for failing to eliminate slavery in Sudan. And it requires the Bush administration to prepare a report on war crimes that may have been committed by all parties in the Sudan conflict.
After passage in the House, the legislation moves on to the Senate where it is also expected to win easy bi-partisan approval before going to President Bush for signature.
The Sudan Peace Act calls on the United States to develop a contingency plan to ensure that aid flows to all affected areas if the Khartoum government imposes new flight bans affecting the U-N Operation Lifeline Sudan.
The Khartoum government recently ordered relief flights in the equatorial region of the south stopped, after an escalation of fighting. Flights resumed this past Sunday.
Last week, the Sudanese government said it would be willing to observe a new ceasefire to help pave the way for the expected resumption of peace talks in Kenya later this month.