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Top U.S. official to visit Sudan, press for progress in ending conflicts

11/5/2005 8:31am

By George Gedda

4:45 p.m. November 4, 2005

WASHINGTON – Amid growing congressional unease over the situation in Sudan, the State Department's No. 2 official will travel to the East African country next week to seek progress in resolving its multiple crises, including the continuing human mayhem in Darfur.
In an initial stop in Kenya, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will meet leaders of the faction-plagued Darfur rebel movement in hopes of encouraging them to establish a unified position for peace negotiations with Sudanese government officials. Talks are under way in Nigeria.

The glum mood among members of Congress and elsewhere stems from a spike in violence over the past month in the Darfur region of western Sudan and slow movement toward implementing the peace accord that ended the North-South war last January.

"Any spark could set off a wildfire, so all of the key parties have important work to do to keep things on track," Zoellick said Friday. The trip will be his fourth to Sudan since he took office nine months ago.

More than 90 House members, virtually all of them Democrats, signed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing concern over these developments and accusing the administration of showing undue friendship toward the Islamic government in Khartoum.

Far from holding accountable a regime accused of genocide, "we appear to be engaged in a policy of appeasement," the letter said.

The assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, attributed the violence in Sudan to general lawlessness, to the factionalism among Darfur rebel groups, and to the Janjaweed Arab militias who have been responsible for most of the killing in Darfur since early 2003.

"We will put pressure on the government to stop any support it is providing the Janjaweed," she said.

The January agreement sets out power- and wealth-sharing goals for the North and South. That conflict is separate from the Darfur violence.

Zoellick will meet with northern and southern leaders in Khartoum to encourage them to forge ahead with implementation of the accord. He and his party then will travel west to Darfur, where he will visit one of many camps housing more than 2 million displaced people in Darfur.

Zoellick also will visit with commanders and troops from the African Union's 6,000 peacekeepers in Darfur.

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