U.S. opens consulate in Sudan

The U.S. moved to cement ties with the autonomous government of southern Sudan by opening a consulate in the south on Friday, 11 months after the signing of an agreement to end a 21-year north-south civil war.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick opened the consulate in this capital of Sudan's southern government in a ceremony attended by key former rebel leaders who now lead the region and participate in a national unity government.

The consulate, the only one any country was operating in Juba, was to be housed for the time being in a Red Cross compound. Zoellick raised the U.S. flag there Friday.

Zoellick later met southern government president Salva Kiir Mayardit and other officials to press them to form an inclusive and transparent administration and play an active role in the central government.

Zoellick is in Sudan to try to shore up the implementation of the southern peace deal and strengthen efforts to end separate conflicts in the western Darfur region and in eastern Sudan.

A January peace agreement provided for an autonomous south with its own army, government and a new constitution during the six-year interim period. After the transition, the 10 southern states will hold a referendum on independence.

Implementation of the power- and wealth-sharing deal faltered after the death of the southern leader John Garang in a helicopter crash in July. Among the key provisions whose implementation has been delayed were steps to ensure oil revenues are equitably shared.

Concerns the north-south peace could fray added to uncertainty and instability amid the conflict in Darfur, scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The United Nations estimates that 180,000 people have died, mainly through famine and disease in Darfur. No firm figures exist on the number killed in fighting. Several million more have either fled into neighboring Chad or been displaced inside Sudan. Most of those who fled now live in sprawling camps, kept alive by food and medical care provided by aid workers.

Attacks on civilians continue, and a recent split in the main Darfur rebel movement has sparked more violence.

During a visit to Darfur Thursday, Zoellick got into a shouting match with a Darfur government official that illustrated the difficulties of peacemaking.

The U.S. envoy had just listened to African Union military observers describe a recent outbreak of violence that had turned southern Darfur's Shek en Nil into a ghost village of burned out homes, and heard local leaders profess their commitment to peace. Regional commissioner Sadiek Abdel Nabi followed as Zoellick stepped away for what was to have been a private additional African Union briefing in the remnants of a village home.

An angry Zoellick ordered Nabi out, saying: "I want to hear a straight story ... and I can't trust your government." When Nabi refused, Zoellick said he would protest to President Omar el-Bashir.

"I am Bashir here!" Nabi shouted three times in English, standing inches from Zoellick. Nabi previously had relied on an Arab translator. An AU officer persuaded Nabi to back off, and Zoellick heard of truce-breaking violence in the region by the rebels, the government and marauding militias known as the Janjaweed believed backed by the government, reports the AP. I.L.

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