US Envoy Natsios Heads to Khartoum

United States special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, is due to arrive in Khartoum on Friday. Natsios visit comes at a time of increased diplomatic tension between the US and Sudan over the Darfur conflict.

In recent weeks, tensions between the U.S. and Sudan have grown following Sudan's refusal to allow a United Nations mission entry into the war-torn Darfur region.

The U.S. has pressed for the U.N. to replace the African Union which critics charge cannot adequately protect millions of Darfuri civilians.

Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Joel Maybury, told VOA that Natsios, who was just appointed to his post by President Bush in mid-September, will visit both southern and western Sudan.

"The plan is for him to visit both Juba and Darfur during his approximately week-long stay in Sudan," said Maybury. "We have requested a meeting with President Al Bashir as well as first Vice President Kiir, Vice President Taha and Special Advisor to the President, Minni Minnawi. As of this moment I am not aware that those meetings have been confirmed."

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that Natsios' visit is aimed at illustrating U.S. support for both the Darfur Peace Agreement and the separate Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended twenty one years of civil war between Sudan's ruling National Congress Party and southern rebels.

The CPA has had more success than the Darfur agreement but tensions over southern oil revenue have plagued the deal.

Former southern rebels have accused Sudan's ruling party of attempting to swindle southern oil money and development in the south has remained stagnant.

The May Darfur agreement catalyzed even more violence in the region, after several rebel factions refused to sign on to the deal.

Rebels in the region have fought one another for control of areas in Darfur, displacing thousands of civilians.

In recent weeks Sudan has come under intense pressure by the United States and other nations, to improve the situation in Darfur.

Natsios has previously spent time in Sudan as the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The three-and-one-half year conflict in Darfur began when rebels attacked government positions, complaining that the remote region remained undeveloped due to neglect by the central government.