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By Gamal Nkrumah The handshake between United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Beshir did little to dispel US-Sudanese distrust. Powell flew to Khartoum on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Sudan, the first by a US secretary of state to the war-torn African country since Cyrus Vance's brief 1978 stopover in Khartoum. The following day United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan flew into Khartoum. Annan's visit was timed to coincide with Powell's. The two men agree the conflict in Darfur threatens the entire Sudanese peace process. Annan arrived in Khartoum with Jan Pronke, new UN envoy to Sudan, 25 media workers and representatives of human rights and emergency relief agencies. Last Thursday, the US Senate approved $95 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Darfur. Powell, an outspoken critic of Al- Beshir's regime, threatened Khartoum with sanctions over the 16-month old conflict in Darfur. He urged greater access to Darfur, an arid landlocked region the size of Texas, for humanitarian groups. On the eve of his visit Annan expressed "grave concern" about the situation in Darfur, warning that hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake. Both Annan and Powell travelled to Darfur in a bid to end the violence. The Sudanese authorities banned anti-US demonstrations planned by the country's Islamist- dominated trade unions and professional associations. The US now appears to be working alongside the UN on Sudan. US President George W Bush dispatched Powell to Sudan to put pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the fighting in Darfur. Powell has a personal stake in Sudanese peace. He is leaving office and wants a comprehensive Sudanese peace settlement to be his farewell political showpiece. Powell worked hard to secure lasting peace between north and south Sudan, and he is unwilling to contemplate intensification of war in western Sudan now that peace in the south is at hand. Powell told Sudanese government officials that Washington would not stand idly as the conflict in Darfur wrecks the Sudanese peace process currently taking place under the auspices of the Inter- Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a regional organisation grouping seven East African countries, including Sudan. The US and the UN realise that war in Darfur will see the IGAD peace unravel. Yet as fighting flared up in Darfur, the final phase of the Sudanese peace talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the country's largest armed opposition group, resumed on Monday in the Kenyan resort of Naivasha. The SPLA has reportedly provided arms, ammunition and training to Darfur's Sudan's Liberation Army (SLA) as early as March 2002 when the SLA was known as the Darfur Liberation Front. And SPLA leader John Garang has hinted that his movement may be able to help in the resolution of the conflict in Darfur. The Sudanese government remains opposed to SPLA mediation efforts in Darfur. Sudan's minister for humanitarian affairs, Mohamed Youssef Abdullah, insisted the situation in Darfur was "under control". Washington's newly-appointed UN Ambassador John Danforth, an old Sudan hand, is expected to coordinate US and UN policies on Sudan, which is expected to be high on Danforth's agenda. The high-profile visits of Annan and Powell to Khartoum highlight the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Darfur, while EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana has dispatched observers to help monitor the cease-fire in Darfur in cooperation with the African Union. Washington is also closely collaborating with the European Union in order to avert humanitarian disaster in Darfur. The EU is expected to use its offer of funds as leverage in the Darfur conflict. Washington is also coordinating activities with one time foes such as Libya. "We're working with others, [including] the Libyans, to try to get a third route for supplies in to Darfur," President Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Fox News on the eve of Powell's visit to Sudan. American suspicions of the Sudanese government's motives are not restricted to the Bush administration. Senate and congressional misgivings about Sudan run deep. Black US lawmakers have been especially vocal in their criticism of Sudan. "We urge Powell to support an immediate intervention to stop the killing," Donald Payne, president of the US Congressional Black Caucus said. "If we fail to act a million people could die before the end of the year," he warned. "Now there is a severe humanitarian catastrophe on our hands and it is time that the government of the US, the UN and the international community call the atrocities in Darfur by their rightful name," Payne said. The US has provided Sudan with $110 million since the crisis in Darfur erupted in February 2003. Emma Bonino, member of the International Crisis Group which has recently released two reports on Darfur, told Al- Ahram Weekly that the Sudanese government has been obstructing the work of journalists and humanitarian aid workers in Darfur. Bonino, in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and Sudanese opposition figures, said "journalists and aid workers are key witnesses to the atrocities committed in Darfur against the civilian population. They do not want to be seen killing their own people." "Those responsible for the atrocities must be held accountable," Bonino said. The US must "secure the protection and security of civilians and humanitarian workers, disarm the militias and allow full and unimpeded access by humanitarian groups in Darfur."

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