Kerry: Darfur integral to better US-Sudan ties

Kerry: Darfur integral to better US-Sudan ties
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Friday, January 7, 2011 - 11:32pm

KHARTOUM, Sudan – U.S. Sen. John Kerry said Friday Sudan's northern government will win quick U.S. incentives if an independence referendum in the south goes smoothly, but further improvement of ties depends on progress toward peace in the separate conflict in Darfur.

Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, is in Sudan ahead of the critical referendum on independence for southern Sudan. The vote is a key element of a 2005 peace agreement that ended the 21-year civil war between the Arab-dominated north and the mainly Christian, animist south. Some 2 million people were killed in the conflict.

Kerry said he has seen a positive shift in the Khartoum government's approach toward the Jan. 9 referendum, which is expected to see the oil-rich south split off from the north into an independent country.

"They deserve credit for making the decision to follow through and deliver on the (peace agreement)," Kerry said. "I think there has been a constructive change there and we need to follow from there."

But Kerry, on his fourth visit to Sudan, said resolving the war in the western Darfur region remains an important "matrix" in a U.S. incentives package to the Khartoum government.

He said if the referendum goes smoothly and the north accepts the results, Obama is prepared to "immediately" initiate the process to remove Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, which Khartoum has been on since 1993. Kerry called the move a confidence building measure.

Relations between Sudan and the U.S. have soured since President Omar al-Bashir's government came to power in 1989. The U.S. imposed economic, trade and financial sanctions against Sudan in 1997, and added new ones in 2007 because of the Darfur conflict. President Obama renewed the economic sanctions in a letter to Congress in November, a requirement by law every year.

Kerry said lifting economic sanctions would require progress toward a peace deal in Darfur.

"Darfur remains a very critical issue and center of our focus and I went there today to purposely link the future of Sudan to our ability to resolve what happens in Darfur," he said.

Kerry visited Shangil Tobyai, a village in northern Darfur Friday, where thousands of newly displaced fled to from recently renewed violence. He said he hoped the referendum process and the international focus on Sudan will give impetus to a new push toward making peace in Darfur.

On a previous trip to Sudan in November, Kerry shared with the Khartoum government a letter from President Barack Obama laying out the way forward for a gradual improvement of relations with Washington. He revealed details publicly from the letter for the first time on Friday.

"This is an integrated process and as the president has laid out, Darfur is one of the elements of consideration but the (peace) agreements are very critical," he said.

Outstanding issues following the southern referendum that still need to be resolved before the peace agreement expires in July this year include border disputes and citizenship rights as well as oil revenue sharing, he said.

"But you can move on one thing or another thing before you have everything completed," he said. "There has to be a show of good faith on both sides. That requires us to do something when it is appropriate and it requires them to continue to do things."

Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died 2.7 million have been forced from their homes because of the conflict.

Fighting has subsided in much of Darfur, but there have been recent clashes between government troops and rebel forces. The uptick in violence comes as peace negotiations between rebel groups and the government in the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar have stalled.

Kerry commended the Qataris on their role in Darfur peacemaking, but said he thinks the talks need to move to a more visible, larger stage. He said rebel groups should participate, not boycott the talks.

"We are looking for a serious process here and we are going do everything we can in order to advance this process," he said.

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