Sudan says the United States will mediate in peace talks next week between the government and Sudanese rebels. U.S. officials would not confirm that report, but President Bush's special envoy arrived in Sudan Saturday for further talks.

Sudan's state news agency says talks in Switzerland next week will be the first time the United States mediates directly in the 18-year-old conflict between the government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Arriving in Sudan Saturday, American envoy John Danforth refused comment on the planned talks, saying only that he is hoping to "find out ways to peace." President Bush asked the former senator to see if the United States could do something more to end the conflict.

In addition to talks with Sudan's government in Khartoum, Senator Danforth is also expected to visit the southern Nuba Mountains, which have become a sticking point in the peace talks. Both sides agree on the need to hold a referendum for greater autonomy for the mainly African Christian and animist South. But they do not agree on who should vote in that referendum which could give the south more independence from the mainly Arab Muslim North.

When British colonialists divided Sudan, they designated the Nuba Mountains as the north. Sudan's government wants to keep that distinction and prevent people there from voting in the referendum on the south. Rebels say fighters from the Nuba Mountains have been with them nearly 20 years and deserve the right to determine their own future.

Senator Danforth met with both sides last November and presented a package of confidence-boosting measures including a cease-fire in the Nuba mountains, safe corridors to deliver relief aid and an end to aerial bombardments.