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Friday, January 12, 2007

U.S. asks China to exert pressure on Sudan

BEIJING (Reuters) - A U.S. presidential envoy for Sudan said on Friday that he had asked China to exert its leverage on the African nation to ensure Khartoum abides by U.N. resolutions on the strife-torn Darfur region.

Andrew Natsios, wrapping up what he said was a "very successful" five-day trip to China, said he was still concerned Sudan was not doing enough to end the violence in Darfur, which Washington and Beijing were worried was spreading regionally.

"Our policy and the Chinese policy are closer than I realized they were, and I think the Chinese are going to play an increasingly important role in helping us to resolve this," Natsios told a news conference.

China supplies arms to Sudan, and its oil companies also have large investments in the country. In November, Sudan was energy-hungry China's fourth-largest source of crude imports.

Natsios said he had made a "whole series of requests" to the Chinese asking them to help, though he would not give details.

When asked if he had requested the Chinese use their leverage over Sudan, he said:

"I did, yes. There is a concern in Beijing and in Washington that this war in Darfur is spreading now into Chad and the Central African Republic, so it is causing regional instability."

The envoy said that he remained concerned about an upsurge in violence even with the signing of an African Union-mediated peace deal in May.

Fighting has escalated and aid agencies and experts say security in Darfur is rapidly deteriorating, putting many more civilians at risk and cutting off large parts of the region to relief workers.

"I don't have definitive evidence that this was all deliberate but the Sudanese government is not doing anything to reduce the chaos so that we can provide assistance to the 2.8 million people in the camps," Natsios said.

"If we find that the Sudanese government is stonewalling ... then we will go to a more coercive strategy."

He declined to give details of what that "plan B" might be, though the United States and others are considering options ranging from travel bans on Sudanese officials and an assets freeze to imposing a no-fly zone in Darfur.

Fighting erupted in February 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government accusing Khartoum of marginalizing Darfur. The government responded by arming militias to counter the rebellion.

Since then 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes.

Struggling A.U. forces have been unable to stem the violence and Sudan has rejected a
U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers to take over the Darfur A.U. mission.

Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir wrote to former U.N. chief
Kofi Annan in December saying he had agreed to a "hybrid operation" in Darfur, softening his position and allowing U.N. personnel to support the A.U. mission.

Annan described it as a hybrid A.U.-U.N. force deploying up to 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers, but Khartoum insists it is just giving stronger support to the A.U.

"Our view and the U.N. view and the European and African view is that things have deteriorated since the Darfur peace agreement, so there may be more troops needed, not fewer troops needed from when the initial assessment that called for 10,000 additional troops was made," Natsios said.
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