- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick was dispatched to Africa yesterday to push for a peace agreement to end political and ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Mr. Zoellick’s trip was announced after the first day of a two-day extended deadline for a settlement ended without a pact. Sudan’s government has said it would accept the accord, but rebel groups are still pressing additional demands.

“As long as the parties are talking, there’s always a chance for an agreement,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, but she declined to predict the outcome.

At a press conference, Miss Rice said President Bush felt “very strongly and very passionately” about both the need for an agreement and for getting a robust and largely African security force in to protect the people of Darfur.

“It takes time,” she said. “We need to shake the trees a little bit, shake the bureaucracy a little bit and say to people: ‘It’s not acceptable to wait any longer for at least the planning for a robust security force.’”

Disarming militias and integrating them into an armed force are among a handful of matters that must be resolved before completion of a historic deal. Sunday’s deadline was extended at the request of the United States.

“We are down to a few difficult issues,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in announcing Mr. Zoellick’s mission to the talks supervised by the African Union in Abuja, Nigeria. “Nothing is done until everything is done,” he said shortly before Mr. Zoellick’s plane took off.

By some estimates, 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million driven from their homes since 2003 in the western Sudan province. After a slow start, the world’s attention has focused on the conflict between a rebel insurgency and tribal militias linked to an Arab-dominated Khartoum government.

Thousands of people, some clutching signs that read “Never Again,” rallied Sunday in Washington and several of the speakers urged President Bush to take stronger action to end the suffering amid what the administration has determined was genocide.

“You need the participation and public good will of all states who have an interest in seeing that this humanitarian situation, that this tragedy is corrected,” Mr. McCormack said.

Mr. Zoellick is “results-oriented” and prepared to meet with whomever can help get the agreement over the goal line, Mr. McCormack said.

Besides Mr. Zoellick’s trip, the U.S. has been working with officials of NATO, which Washington wants to provide more logistical and training support for African Union peacekeepers.

Efforts are also under way to provide a possible United Nations force to aid African Union troops, a move the Sudanese government has said it would support if a peace treaty is signed.

In the Sudanese capital, the country’s chief negotiator, Majzoub Khalifa, said the rebels’ reluctance to sign the agreement was “regrettable,” but that the government would begin immediately abiding by the agreement.

The African Union must decide what to do if the talks fail, Mr. Khalifa said.

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