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Top US Envoy to Sudan Sees Progress in Darfur

20 September 2007

President Bush's special envoy to Sudan says he is guardedly optimistic ahead of next month's U.N.-backed peace talks in the troubled region of Darfur. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports from Washington.

Ambassador Andrew Natsios says there has been measurable progress in the Darfur region leading up to next month's peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebel factions, despite a recent surge in fighting in the region.

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

One rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, has already vowed to boycott the peace conference. 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 region's most encouraging developments over the past 90 days.

He credited China for playing an important role in the new peace efforts. "I think China has played a very useful role behind the scenes in using its leverage to get the government (of Sudan) to accept resolution 1769 and to participate in the talks," he said.

China has been widely criticized for not doing enough to end the violence in Darfur. Some human rights groups have called on countries to boycott next year's summer olympics in China, if Beijing does not support the peace talks.

U.N. Security Council resolution 1769 authorized the deployment of 26,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers to Darfur.

Political negotiations between the Sudanese goverenment and the rebels are set to start on October 27 in Libya.

Since 2003, fighting and violence in the region have killed more than 200-thousand Sudanese and displaced about two million others.

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