African Press International (API)

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US special envoy to Sudan optimistic about situation in Darfur

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2007

Washington DC- (USA) The United States envoy to Sudan said Thursday that there has been measurable progress in the Darfur region leading up to next months peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebel factions, despite a recent surge in fighting in the region.

Speaking at a meeting in Washington, Ambassador Andrew Natsios said that success depends upon the participation of all involved parties. “We urge all invited rebels, political leaders, and commanders to attend the talks. I cannot emphasize that enough,” he said.

One rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, has already vowed to boycott the peace conference. Mr. Natsios says such lack of cooperation poses the most serious threat to progress. “The biggest obstacle to the talks is not the government of Sudan. It is some of the rebel groups. And I say some because some rebel groups are acting very responsibly, they are trying to participate in the process, and others are refusing to participate, making outlandish demands, despite significant international pressure to the contrary,” he said.

The envoy said it is the responsibility of the international community to keep the talks on track and prevent such actions that hinder progress. He called the recent coming together of multi-international peace keeping forces for Darfur one of the regions most encouraging developments over the past 90 days.

Natsios praised the Chinese role in Darfur. According to him, China has begun to play a “constructive” role in the troubled Darfur region, in a shift from earlier criticism that Beijing was not working for peace there. In February, Mr. Natsios, who had urged China to step up diplomatic pressure on Khartoum; said China is now playing an important behind-the- scenes role to go along with its more visible peacemaking efforts.

usenvoy-in-sudan.jpg“I am very happy with the role the Chinese are playing. It is a constructive role, Natsios said.

In February, Natsios criticized Beijing for signing economic deals with the Sudanese government and not pressuring it over Darfur.

Western politicians and rights groups have accused China of abetting bloodshed in Darfur by maintaining big investments in Sudanese oil, selling Khartoum arms that end up in Darfur, and fending off stronger U.N. Security Council resolutions.

China has been working to prevent Darfur from becoming a blot on its diplomatic record ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Beijing has claimed credit for persuading Khartoum to accept a planned 26,000- strong hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. Beijing also will send more than 300 engineering troops in October to help prepare for the main force.

An estimated 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in the vast western region in 2003.

Khartoum mobilized proxy Arab militia to help quell the revolt. Some of the militiamen pillaged villages and killed civilians but the government denies supporting them.

Peace talks are scheduled in Libya on October 27. Mr. Natsios said the rebel groups must reach a common ground and settle on realistic goals before then.

Fighting among Arabs over land abandoned by Africans poses an additional risk, he said.

“I am more optimistic now than I have been in a long time, but it is a guarded optimism,” he concluded.

Published by Korir, API*APN tel +4793299739 or +4763002525, source.apa

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