US envoy leaves Sudan without deal

By Eli J. Lake
UPI State Department Correspondent

President Bush's special envoy for peace in Sudan said on Wednesday he made no progress in convincing the north to end its attacks on civilian targets in the country's 19-year civil war.

"The direct, intentional and egregious attacks on civilians is the key to our proposal," former Sen. John Danforth said. "I am sorry to say we have made no real progress on these issues."

Danforth added he would recommend to Bush by the spring, possibly as early as March, whether the United States should stay involved in the process.

Danforth met with top Sudanese officials on Monday in his whirlwind diplomatic visit to the country, whose two decades of conflict have claimed some 2 million lives. There, he pushed the north to accept independent monitors particularly as a means to verify the reports of casualties from civilian areas.

Shortly after the delegation's arrival, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir offered a four-week halt to aerial bombardments. But U.S. officials in the delegation said Bashir added a caveat -- an unconditional cease-fire from the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, a step the groups would not agree to take.

Nonetheless, the Sudanese have resisted Danforth's calls for international monitors. On Monday evening Bashir's top adviser on the conflict, Ghazi Salah el-Din Atabani, described the suggestion of monitors to the conflict as "embarrassing" and rejected the idea in a news conference.

In turn, SPLA leader John Garang Tuesday evening dismissed the offer from Bashir to cease the bombings.

"In the first place nobody should bomb civilian targets; it's an insult to human rights," he said. "For a member of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity to present this as a concession from the bottom of their heart is laughable."

Danforth did not address the issue directly, but said, "I don't think anybody has confidence in more words."

The former senator on Tuesday departed on a two-day journey to the Nuba Mountains and Rumbek, the base of operations for the Garang's guerrillas. In Kadugli and Karkar, Danforth heard from both sides that there were violations. A cease-fire in the Nuba mountains has been one of Danforth's key points in his four-point plan to re-energize the dormant regional peace process in Sudan.

On his way back from the south at el Obeid airstrip, Danforth and his party saw a Sudanese Russian-made bomber take off.

On Wednesday he called this region a point of progress. Last October, the World Food Program began food drops in the area, the first such international relief since 1985. But early on, reports surfaced of artillery shelling. On Monday, Nuban commanders from both sides began talks in Switzerland for a broader cease-fire in the region.

Danforth also visited Mapel in southern Sudan, one of the last places on Earth where wild polio still exists. Health officials there have conducted regular, government-approved polio vaccinations. But county Supervisor Charles Kon complained to Danforth that the government had limited his access to rebel-controlled areas.