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US Expresses Frustration over Impasse on Sudan Peace Talks - 2004-04-12

The United States expressed frustration Monday over the continuing impasse in the north-south Sudanese peace talks in Kenya. The State Department warned of possible U.S. sanctions if a deal is not concluded soon.

The parties to the talks in Naivasha, Kenya have missed several self-imposed deadlines for an agreement, including a pledge to Secretary of State Colin Powell in October to conclude a deal by the end of last year.

But now the State Department is warning that sanctions under the Sudan Peace Act approved by Congress in 2002 could come into play if they can't finalize an agreement by later this month.

The government in Khartoum and southern rebels of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) have had the basic outlines of an agreement ending the 20-year-old north-south civil war in hand for some time.

There have been a number of last minute snags, the latest hang-up reportedly centering on whether Khartoum would remain under Islamic law after an agreement with the mainly Christian and animist rebel movement.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary Powell had weekend telephone conversations with the two chief negotiators in Naivasha - Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang.

Mr. Boucher said the United States is making clear that both need to take what he called the "final, very difficult decisions necessary" to bring the process to a successful conclusion.

"There can be no agreement without difficult compromises and we urge the parties to seek real and workable solutions to their requirements," he said. "As I noted, the secretary's been in touch with the parties, Vice President Taha and Mr. Garang, and we're reiterating to the parties our firm view that the time has come to conclude the negotiations."

Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration is also telling the sides that under the Sudan Peace Act, the administration must make a determination to Congress by April 21 as to which party - or both - is responsible for the failure to reach agreement. He said that determination will affect how the United States deals with the parties in the future.

The act of Congress provides for $100 million a year in U.S. aid to Sudan targeted on preparing the war-torn country for peace and democratic governance. To maintain the aid and avoid a set of sanctions against the Khartoum authorities, President Bush must certify every six months that the government and SPLM are negotiating in good faith.

In another development, Mr. Boucher said U.S. officials believe the Sudanese government and Arab militia allies are not observing the cease-fire reached last week with local rebels in the western Darfur region. He said early reporting on the truce indicated some diminution of the fighting, but that there were continuing reports of militia attacks and of aerial bombardment of rebel positions.

The year-old war in Darfur has displaced nearly one million people, mainly African villagers driven from their homes by the militiamen. Many of the refugees have fled into neighboring Chad.