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Bush agrees to special envoy to Sudan

By Elise Labott
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bowing to pressure from international aid groups and human rights groups, U.S. President George W. Bush will appoint a special envoy to pursue ending the violence in Sudan's Darfur region, senior U.S. officials have told CNN.

Bush is expected to make the announcement Tuesday, the officials said.

They said Bush's pick is Andrew Natsios, former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who is currently a professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

During his term, Natsios spent much of his time dealing with the crisis in Sudan. He visited Darfur with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who labeled the situation in Darfur a genocide.

Activists and human rights groups have criticized the U.S. administration's policy on Darfur, claiming it has not devoted enough attention to the issue since former Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick departed the State Department earlier this year.

Zoellick focused on the issue during his tenure and negotiated the May 5 signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the largest of three rebel groups -- the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army.

Despite the agreement, violence has continued. An African Union force of 7,000 has been unable to quell the violence in Darfur and has struggled to find funding.

Khartoum has resisted the mounting international pressure to permit the transition from the African Union force to a more robust, better-equipped force under U.N. command until all of the major rebel groups sign the peace agreement.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution for such a force to replace the African Union troops. However, the force will not be deployed until Sudan can be persuaded to accept it.

The Sudanese government has threatened to kick the African Union forces out when their mandate expires and has begun a deployment of its own troops to stem the violence -- a move the United States has called an offensive against the rebel groups that have not signed the peace agreement.

Sanctions threat

African Union leaders will meet in New York this week to decide whether to send the troops home or extend their mandate through the end of the year. Sudan is expected to agree to let the troops stay, a presidential adviser was quoted as saying Monday.

Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted presidential adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani as saying Sudan may allow AU troops to remain in Darfur past the deadline with more help from the West.

"It is likely we will arrive at an extension of the African Union mandate when the ministers meet in New York. There seems to be a common interest," Atabani said. "It will give time for all sides to find a way out of this."

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will convene a meeting of allies Friday to consider next steps on Sudan.

U.S. officials say possible sanctions against members of the regime, such as a travel ban or asset freezes, and a no-fly zone are being considered if Sudan refuses to allow the African Union force to transition to a U.N. command.

The United Nations has warned of a major humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.

Violence erupted three years ago in ethnically mixed Darfur, when ethnic African rebels took up arms over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government.

The Sudanese government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias named Janjaweed, who have systematically raped women and pillaged entire villages in a campaign the United States has branded "genocide."

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A member of Sudan's Popular Defense Forces holds up a poster opposing U.N. resolution 1706, which approved the deployment of peacekeepers.

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