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Bush meets with Sudanese leader’s widow

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Feb 10, 2006 (WASHINGTON) — US President George W. Bush, under mounting pressure to play a more aggressive role in helping end violence in Sudan, met with the widow of Sudanese rebel leader John Garang.

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U.S. President George W. Bush meets with Rebecca Garang de Mabior, Minister of Transportation, Roads and Bridges of the Government of Southern Sudan, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 10, 2006. (Reuters)

Rebecca Garang is "here to talk about the Sudanese peace process, talk about Darfur," National Security Council spokesman Fred Jones said before the meeting.

But Jones reiterated Washington’s position that it was "premature" to discuss whether the United States would take part in a UN peacekeeping force to replace the beleaguered African Union (AU) contingent in Darfur.

The meeting came three days before Bush meets with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has served notice he wants "big and powerful countries" to play a broad, active role in building such a force.

Garang, Sudan’s minister of transportation, roads, and bridges, was among 161 members of parliament appointed in line with a January peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, which left some two million people dead and displaced twice as many from their homes.

Her husband, a former southern rebel leader, was one of the architects of the January 9 agreement which his group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), signed with the Khartoum government.

Under the deal, John Garang was appointed first vice president and president of the south in a grand ceremony in Khartoum on July 9.

He died in a July 30 helicopter crash, after only three weeks on the job.

Ahead of Bush’s meeting with Rebecca Garang, who was a guest at his State of the Union speech in late January, Human Rights Watch urged the president in a statement to give teeth to any UN force for Sudan.

Bush "should make it clear that the US will provide the necessary support for a UN mission in Darfur. And he should call on other countries to do the same," said Peter Takirambudde, the group’s Africa director.

"The United States should push for the strongest possible UN mandate to disarm the Janjaweed militias and protect civilians, using deadly force if necessary," he said.

Rebecca Garang also met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and with her deputy Robert Zoellick, who had seen the Sudan minister a week ago. At that time Garang brought a basket and said she needed to fill it with US aid.

Zoellick recalled the basket and presented one of his own from Darfur, containing a single sheet of paper detailing 460 million dollars in US aid to Sudan for the 2005-2007 fiscal years, a State Department official said.

"I am pleased we are able to fill your basket for the south. But please remember this is a basket from Darfur and Darfur is still in crisis and we need your help," the official quoted Zoellick as saying.

The official, who asked not to be named, said Garang volunteered to travel to Darfur to meet with key people and discuss violence against women. He quoted her as saying she would also go to Abuja, Nigeria, to help inject new life in peace talks.

(ST/AFP)

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