- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A top Sudanese official said Monday that reconciliation with civilians in the Darfur region is a key goal of the Sudanese government in Khartoum and that he was optimistic that fighting could be stopped.

“I found a new spirit in Darfur,” Ghazi Salaheddin, an adviser to Sudanese President Omar Bashir and head of the majority faction in parliament, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“I spoke with citizens there, and they talked about forgiving and forgetting,” said Mr. Salaheddin, who recently was put in charge of handling the government’s response to the long-running conflict involving tribal militias, government forces and rebel groups in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

Mr. Salaheddin is in Washington as part of a Sudanese delegation to a U.S.-sponsored conference designed to shore up the deal that ended a separate Sudanese conflict — one between the Khartoum government and southern Sudan.

The conference Tuesday will attempt to restore momentum to the 2005 peace agreement that ended the 20-year North-South civil war.

That deal is in jeopardy amid disputes over sharing of revenue from oil exports and an upcoming referendum in which the people of southern Sudan are expected to vote for secession.

But Mr. Salaheddin’s most expansive comments were on the Darfur conflict, a portfolio he received two weeks ago.

He said the violence in Darfur had been greatly reduced and that fewer than 2,000 people were killed in Darfur last year, citing a U.N. estimate.

“My policy is to keep this improvement, to solidify the gains, to reach out to the people of Darfur and to resettle the people who have been displaced,” he said.

The Darfur conflict broke out in 2003. Since then, an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million displaced into squalid refugee camps.

Mr. Salaheddin said the International Criminal Court’s recent indictment of Lt. Gen. Bashir threatens to derail the peace with the south.

“The ICC’s demanding the head of the president” at the same time it expects him to carry out the terms of the 2005 agreement, Mr. Salaheddin said.

The ICC issued a warrant in March for Gen. Bashir, charging him with war crimes and other atrocities in connection with the violence in Darfur.

The U.S. government and several humanitarian groups have termed the conflict a genocide, although the United Nations and the ICC have avoided using the term.

Mr. Salaheddin said that it was unlikely that the Sudanese government could reach an agreement with rebel groups in Darfur but that if the United States and other countries such as France pressed the rebels, something might be accomplished.



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