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China, Sudan strengthen economic ties

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Feb 2, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — China and Sudan have cemented their economic partnership with a series of trade agreements despite international pressure on China to use its influence to resolve the conflict in Darfur.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao shakes hands with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir. (AFP)

Chinese President Hu Jintao met his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir in Khartoum and agreed on closer economic cooperation further boosting trade that reached 2.9 billion dollars in the first 11 months of 2006.

"We are now officially economic partners," Beshir told reporters before heading into a closed meeting with Hu.

The international community has been hoping that Beijing would use its influence on Khartoum over the Darfur conflict but Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol said the meeting focused on trade relations.

China has agreed to give Sudan an interest-free loan of 100 million yuan (12.8 million dollars) and a grant of 40 million yuan (5.1 million dollars) for a variety of projects, Finance Minister Al-Zubair Ahmed Hassan told reporters.

China’s energy-hungry economy — the fourth largest in the world — is badly in need of Sudan and other African countries’ resources.

No other country has more clout on the Khartoum government than China, which absorbs 60 percent of Sudan’s total oil output and has repeatedly used its UN Security Council veto power to block further sanctions on the regime.

The China National Petroleum Corporation has huge stakes in Sudan’s oil industry, producing around 500,000 barrels per day. China is also building a dam on the Nile, which is currently Africa’s largest hydro-electric project.

Turning to Darfur, Akol told reporters: "The two sides agreed to support the Addis Ababa agreement," referring to the accord calling for a hybrid UN-African Union force in the troubled western Sudanese region.

Khartoum has yet to approve the final phase of the three-stage plan for UN forces to supplement the African contingent in Darfur where at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced since fighting broke out four years ago.

Led by Washington, the international community has been pressing Khartoum to accept the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, where African Union troops have failed to quell the bloodshed.

But Beshir has consistently rejected such a move, accusing the United Nations and Western powers of seeking to invade his country and plunder its resources.

Some observers had pinned hopes on China’s diplomatic role in Sudan.

"If the Chinese put some pressure on Khartoum, it might have some potential," said the Save Darfur coalition’s Larry Rossin, who recently travelled to Khartoum with US envoy Bill Richardson.

"I hope they can use their influence... to press President Omar al-Beshir to implement in good faith the hybrid peacekeeping agreement," Rossin told AFP.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Chinese agency Xinhua: "It is encouraging that the Chinese government has been trying to have a very cooperative partnership and relationship with all African countries."

Hu received a warm welcome Thursday in Liberia, the second leg of his tour of the continent.

He began his tour Tuesday in Cameroon, where he approved grants and loans worth more than 54 million dollars, signing a draft agreement on scrapping Cameroon’s debt to China and a series of health and educational accords.

Emphasising its commitment to Africa, China said this week it would write off debts owed by 33 African countries as part of a multi-billion-dollar pledge made last year.

(AFP)

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