INTERVIEW-U.S. peace envoy on Sudan says progress not enough

By Caroline Drees
Jan 17, 2002 (Reuters)

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan said on Thursday he was not satisfied with the warring parties' peace efforts so far, and would advise Washington in roughly two months whether it was worth continuing his peace mission.

John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri and an ordained minister, told Reuters after his second visit to Sudan that some progress had been made in the 19-year-old civil war. But he said it was not yet clear whether the government and rebels had a sufficient will for peace.

Asked whether the parties had done enough to cooperate with his mission, Danforth said: "No. It is not what I would hope. What I would hope (for) would be to start a peace process. What I would hope (for) is a sense that there really is light at the end of the tunnel. I don't see that."

Africa's largest country has been racked by a civil war since 1983 which has cost the lives of some two million people. In broad terms, the war pits rebels seeking greater autonomy for the mostly Christian and animist south against the Islamist government in the north.

Despite "very positive" progress on a ceasefire in the Nuba mountains region in central Sudan and ongoing talks in Switzerland to cement the limited calm, the envoy said he had no plans to return to Sudan at this stage.

Danforth's core proposals for Sudan since his appointment in September involved allowing humanitarian access to the Nuba mountains, setting up "days and zones of tranquility" for humanitarian intervention and ending slavery and abductions.


He said progress had been made on these three points, but a fourth proposal calling for an end to the bombardment of civilians by the Sudanese air force had made little headway.

"I think we will have a better view in another, say, couple of months as to whether the four tests are working. And not just on paper, but in fact. Whether it appears as though there is a will for peace on the part of both the government and the opposition. Whether a real peace process can begin," he said.

"If the answer to that is no...then I'll simply report that to the president (George W. Bush) and advise the president that at least in my view it's not fruitful for the United States to do very much...I don't know what else to do," he said.

Bush appointed Danforth on September 6, less than a week before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

His peace mission is one of several signs that relations between the United States and Sudan -- long strained by human rights concerns and U.S. accusations that Sudan sponsors terrorism -- are on the mend.

Washington now says it is looking for ways to improve ties. It says Sudan has assisted U.S. investigators in the aftermath of September 11.

The United States began talks on terrorism last year with Sudan, where prime suspect Osama bin Laden lived from 1991 to 1996, but the rate of progress appears to have picked up rapidly since the attacks.

Danforth said that, while Washington's interest in resolving the Sudan conflict predated the September attacks, the events had created "a greater sense of urgency" for many people.