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US preparing significant pledge for donor conference on Sudan

4/8/2005 7:53pm

By GEORGE GEDDA, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON, Apr 8, 2005 (AP) -- Hoping to spur Sudan's peace process, the United States is prepared to make a significant pledge to an international donor's conference on Sudan next week, the United States said Friday.

Officials are worried that a January peace agreement designed to end a 21-year North-South war in Sudan could unravel without strong international backing.

The United States will join with other donor countries in Norway for the Monday meeting. Funds pledged will be used mostly for reconstruction and development of the devastated southern region of Sudan.

A proposal for sending 10,000 peacekeepers to monitor the agreement recently received U.N. Security Council approval.

The State Department's second ranking official, Robert Zoellick, will represent the administration in Oslo.

There he will meet with Sudanese government and rebel leaders. Zoellick then will travel to Sudan itself later on to press officials in Khartoum to push hard for implementation of the January accord and also to pursue peace in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Zoellick will fly to that area as well to show U.S. concern about the continuing humanitarian tragedy in the France-sized region.

The North-South war claimed more than 2 million lives over two decades while in Darfur the toll since early 2003 is tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million uprooted from their homes.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the two situations, although geographically separated, are linked.

"Progress on implementing the North-South accords, progress in getting in Sudan a government that unifies the nation, contributes to ending the violence in Darfur," he said.

The deal between the Khartoum government and southern-based rebels calls for an autonomous south with its own army, wealth sharing, religious freedom and a new constitution during a six-year interim period.

As for Darfur, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the abuses there, mostly by government-backed Arab militias against black African farmers, qualify as genocide.

That assessment has not changed but recent developments increase the possibility that some perpetrators will be punished. International Criminal Court prosecutors are preparing cases against 51 suspected war criminals.

Boucher said the level of violence has declined recently but he acknowledged that the region is still dangerous.

Mark Schneider, of the International Crisis Group, which monitors global hot spots, agreed in an interview that that violence may be down somewhat but only because Sudan has been a major focus of the U.N. Security Council in recent weeks.

"Only during this time period have the Sudanese been behaving somewhat better," Schneider said.

Ignoring council resolutions, Schneider said there has been "a total failure by the Sudanese government to disarm paramilitary groups which have murdered and raped and burned out hundreds of villages."

Since 2003, the United States has provided $1 billion in assistance related to the North-South conflict and $600 million for Darfur. Most of the funds have been for humanitarian relief.

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