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Kenya Steps-Up Efforts to Resolve Crisis in Darfur - 2004-06-23


Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka says Nairobi is prepared to take a leading role in resolving the political crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The 17-month conflict in Darfur has caused more than one million people to flee their homes, creating what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Foreign Minister Musyoka says that in a recent telephone conversation, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan requested that Kenya lead efforts to bring peace to Darfur.

"He specifically requested that if Kenya could play a leadership role in this conflict in western Sudan, the Darfur region, 'I'm sure this is a challenge you would want to take,'" said Mr. Musyoka.

Kenya has hosted peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which is based primarily in the south of the country. A final peace agreement is due to be signed in the coming weeks.

But Mr. Musyoka says that peace deal will mean little if the Darfur question is not addressed, and with Kenya's help.

"Although we have successfully tried to mediate in the conflict in the south, there cannot be sustainable peace in Sudan without making sure that even the west is comfortable. So we are ready to take up that challenge," he added.

Black African rebels in Darfur started an insurgency against government forces in February 2003, because of what they saw as neglect by the government, which is predominantly ethnic-Arab.

Human rights groups charge that Arab janjaweed militias, supported by the government, are attacking Darfur's black civilian population in response.

More than one million people have fled their homes for the relative safety of refugee camps in Darfur and over the border in Chad. For more than a year, Sudan allowed little access to international aid groups. The refugees face shortages of food, possible outbreaks of disease and continued attacks by the militias.

Last week, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pledged to disarm all the militias. His government has also recently allowed greater access to the refugee camps by aid groups.