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Sudan says attempting to quell Darfur violence

4/14/2005 7:44pm

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

KHARTOUM, Apr 14, 2005 (AP) -- The Sudanese government is trying to stop the bloodshed in Darfur, a top official said Thursday, two days after the United States warned that peace must be reached in that western region to ensure future international aid for Sudan's recovery.

"We are working diligently to stop the violence -- not only to stop the violence in Darfur but to resolve the conflict through political negotiations and get Darfur back to normalcy," Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, Sudan's first vice president, told reporters just before meeting privately with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

The Arab-dominated government has talked in recent months of the need to halt the ethnic strife. But violence continues to plague Darfur, and peace talks have failed.

It's unclear just how much influence Taha has with the government-backed Arab militias that launched a counterinsurgency in 2003 when black Africans rebelled over what they called discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

Known as the Janjaweed, the militias have committed wide-scale abuses against tribes it says are allied with the rebels. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the government and allied militias participated in genocide, and the United Nations has given prosecutors from the International Criminal Court a list of 51 people to investigate for war crimes.

Zoellick arrived in Sudan on Thursday, aiming to keep the spotlight on its nationwide humanitarian crisis -- and the pressure on its officials to end strife in Darfur.

Taha, who ignored a question from reporters about whether he agreed with the United States' assessment of genocide, met with Zoellick in an ornate marble room at Sudan's presidential palace. The whitewashed stone compound is perched on a riverbank near where the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers meet in the capital.

Zoellick also planned talks Friday with opposition leader John Garang in Rumbeck, the southern headquarters of rebels who challenged the Khartoum-based government during a two-decade-long civil war.

In January, Taha and Garang brokered a peace agreement to formally end the war and create a new government in Africa's largest country. A month later, they called for an immediate end to fighting in Darfur and a resumption of peace talks with the goal of reaching an agreement this year to end the conflict.

On Friday, Zoellick will travel inside Darfur, which has seen 180,000 deaths and more than 2 million people displaced from their homes over the past two years.

Earlier this week, at a 60-nation conference in Oslo, Norway, for donors to Sudan, Zoellick called on the Khartoum-based government to stop the Arab militias and hold people accountable for atrocities.

He promised U.S. aid totaling US$1.7 billion (A€1.3 billion), mostly for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in the devastated southern region. But, he said: "For us to sustain support, particularly related to the government in Khartoum, we're going to have to see action in Darfur."

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