The State Department says protocols due to be signed Wednesday in Kenya represent a "major milestone" in efforts to end Sudan's long-running north-south civil war. But U.S. officials say Sudanese authorities will not receive the full benefits of peace until the separate crisis in the western Darfur region is resolved. The parties to the Sudanese conflict have been reported close to agreement before, only to have last-minute snags derail plans for signing an agreement.
But Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters here he is "hopeful and optimistic" that there will be signings Wednesday, and he has dispatched the State Department's chief diplomat for Africa, Charles Snyder, to Kenya to represent the United States at the ceremonies.
Officials of the Sudanese government and southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army are expected to sign protocols spelling out agreements reached in the Kenyan-mediated talks on power-sharing and on the status of three disputed areas of the country.
The protocols will supplement a basic agreement reached in 2002 providing for six years of autonomy for the south to be followed by a referendum on the region's political future.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the protocols are a "major milestone" on the road to resolving the civil conflict, which began more than 20 years ago.
But he also said Sudanese authorities cannot expect the full benefits from the north-south peace accords as long as the Darfur crisis continues:
"We've been pressing very hard on the government and we will continue to press very hard on the government," he said. "I think the Secretary has also made clear that we are not in a position to provide the kind of benefits or assistance that might flow from a peace agreement, if the situation in Darfur persists. And so that has been made clear as well."
In the Darfur conflict, Arab militiamen backed by the Sudanese government have been trying to put down a revolt by two local rebel groups, and in the process, have been accused of ethnic-cleansing tactics that have driven a million people from their homes, many fleeing into neighboring Chad.
Mr. Boucher said the United States continues to press the Khartoum government to rein-in the militiamen, implement a cease-fire deal reached last month in Chad and fully open the remote region to international relief workers and supplies.
The United States has committed nearly $100 million in relief aid for Darfur, most of it food for the U.N.'s World Food Program. But Mr. Boucher said that because of limits on access to the area, aid distribution has been "no where near" the point of reaching all of those in need.