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US Lawmakers Scrutinize Sudan Peace Act - 2003-05-13


President Bush's certification to Congress that parties in the Sudan conflict have made progress in negotiations is coming under scrutiny on in the U.S. Congress. A congressional subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on prospects for achieving a final settlement between the government in Khartoum and southern rebels.

In a message to Congress in April, President Bush said the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army are negotiating in good faith to end their long-running conflict.

The president is required to issue such a certification every six months under the Sudan Peace Act, which he signed into law last year after its approval by Congress.

Among other things, the act provides for sanctions and other punitive measures by the United States in the event the government in Khartoum fails to move ahead with negotiations to end Sudan's decades-old conflict.

However, key members of Congress are not convinced there has been significant progress, and many believe the Sudanese government is primarily to blame.

These concerns were evident in a hearing Tuesday of the House Africa subcommittee. Its chairman, Congressman Ed Royce, said the parties to the conflict in Sudan should remember the United States will not allow negotiations to drag on indefinitely.

"The administration has reported, as required by the Sudan Peace Act, that negotiating progress has been made over the last six months," he said. "On balance, I agree, so we should continue our support for the current negotiations. But the reality is that perpetual negotiations are not in the cards."

The top U.S. official for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, told Mr. Royce and other committee members President Bush's certification was based on solid progress in the talks.

"The Machakos Protocol laid out an unprecedented framework for the negotiations by addressing the issues of religion and the state, and the south's right to self-determination and that, gentlemen, is the crux of the peace deal, the south's right to self-determination," he said.

Mr. Kansteiner says Washington has made clear to both the Islamic government in Khartoum, and to the southern Sudan rebels that the United States expects to see results.

However, the primary author of the Sudan Peace Act, Congressman Tom Tancredo, says he has not been persuaded by the administration's statements.

"Most have suggested that the glass is half full. I am afraid I do not have that same impression," he said. "I believe that the accomplishments, though there are some to be lauded, are few and far between and overstated in terms of their importance toward achieving the final goal."

Representatives of the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army recently began a new round of negotiations in Kenya. Power-sharing and distribution of income from the country's oil reserves are key issues remaining to be resolved.

In his testimony, Mr. Kansteiner said President Bush and Secretary of State Powell remain committed to ending the Sudan civil war.

Some lawmakers believe President Bush needs to make a final push, including an offer to move the talks to Washington, and possibly a public signing ceremony when or if a final agreement is reached.