US Special Envoy to Sudan John Danforth, speaking on Thursday following talks with officials in Khartoum, said he had stressed this message to government officials and would do the same with southern rebel leader John Garang.

But Danforth did not propose ways of ending a stalemate in negotiations. He will travel to Nairobi for talks with Garang and chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo.

The US special envoy said he delivered a message to Sudan’s President Omar Bashir from his US counterpart George W Bush underlining the US leader’s commitment to achieving peace in Africa’s biggest country.

Normalisation of ties

A peace deal could pave the way for normalising ties with Washington, said Danforth.

Relations between Washington and Khartoum have been tense since Bashir overthrew a democratically elected government in a 1989 coup.

Danforth said peace
could normalise ties
with the US

Ties became more strained when the United States bombed a pharmaceutical factory near Khartoum which Washington claimed it believed was producing chemical weapons components. Sudan categorically denied the allegation.

Danforth said he was “very encouraged” by the chances of peace talks.

Khartoum withdrew from negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Kenya last Sunday after rejecting US-backed East African peace proposals accepted by the southern rebels.

The SPLA has been fighting since 1983 to end domination of mainly Christian south by the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum.

Reported fighting

Meanwhile, the French news agency AFP reported fighters from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) killed more than 300 Sudanese army soldiers in a battle in north Darfur state.

A leader of the rebel group told AFP they downed a military helicopter and seized 25 army vehicles.

There was no immediate confirmation of the fighting from the Khartoum government and the report would not be independently verified.

The group’s secretary general said the attack was “revenge against the army which Wednesday torched 19 villages in the Kutum area”.

The SLM has launched several attacks in the Darfur region of west Sudan since it first surfaced in February. It says it is fighting for an end to government neglect of Darfur and has called for the overthrow of Khartoum’s government.