Richardson Pushes Sudan On Darfur Crisis

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a potential 2008 U.S. presidential candidate, left, meets with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, right, in Khartoum, Monday, Jan. 8, 2007. AP Photo/Abdelraouf

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson drew on his relationship with the evasive Sudanese president Monday to press him to open the wartorn Darfur region to U.N. troops and bring lasting peace.

Richardson met privately with President Omar al-Bashir for nearly an hour at his mint green residence and emerged touting progress. He would not say whether al-Bashir gave him any commitments, but said they plan to meet again Wednesday and will issue a joint statement then.

"The meeting was good. We made some progress," Richardson told local reporters who had gathered outside and gave unusual coverage highlighting the Democratic governor's expected candidacy for president in 2008.

The trip could be a boost for Richardson's bid by drawing attention to his extensive foreign policy credentials and potentially motivating voters outraged by the atrocities.

Back at his hotel, Richardson told an Associated Press reporter traveling with him that he and al-Bashir discussed the U.N. peacekeeping force, a cease-fire, protection for humanitarian groups working in the region, growing sexual violence against refugees and a potential conference with rebel leaders.

The Sudanese government signed a peace agreement with some rebels last May in Abuja, Nigeria, but most rebel faction leaders rejected the accord. A cease-fire was quickly broken and violence subsequently increased in Darfur.

"We're going to press the rebels to participate not just in the Abuja process, but in the cease-fire and protecting humanitarian groups," Richardson said. He said he and al-Bashir discussed how to bring those who refused to sign on to Abuja into the process.

He discussed the same issue later with Minni Minnawi, the leader of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement that signed the agreement and subsequently became a presidential assistant. Minnawi expressed disappointment that the government has not yet disarmed the militias and told Richardson if the al-Bashir's government does not honor it's commitments, there will be regime change.

Yet he encouraged other rebel leaders to sign onto the agreement and said he would adhere to it. "We are respecting the cease-fire and we will continue to implement it," Minnawi said in an interview at him home in Khartoum, where other Darfurians sat under tents and cooked food in the yard.

Al-Bashir has been isolated internationally over Darfur, avoiding intense global pressure to allow 20,000 peacekeepers in to protect 2.5 million people who have been uprooted during the 4-year-old conflict. The U.N. Security Council voted in August to send in the peacekeepers to replace the underpowered African Union force of 7,000 troops.

His government has a record of appearing to accede to international pressure and then backtracking. Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that Sudan had provisionally agree to accept a staggered version of the U.N. plan, but days later it became apparent that Khartoum would accept only small numbers of U.N. military and civilian advisers.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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