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Obama extends sanctions against Sudan

New policy encourages dialogue but presses for change.

Sudanese weep at the death of family member who was killed during ethnic fighting on Sept. 22, 2009. A surge of tribal killings has sparked fears for the stability of Sudan's underdeveloped south. The new U.S. policy for Sudan highlights problems in the south and Darfur. (Tim Mckulka/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Barack Obama on Wednesday extended sanctions against Sudan for another year as part of a new U.S. policy that offers the prospect of greater dialogue while promising to continue to press for change.

Sudan is one country — however divided. That's the gist of the new policy announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month.

With the Darfur conflict rumbling on in the west and a peace deal threatening to unravel in the south, the new U.S. policy is to link these things, realizing that one cannot be solved without the other.

"In the past, the United States's approach too often has focused narrowly on emerging crises," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing the new policy in Washington on Oct. 19. "[We] are approaching two key issues — Darfur and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement — simultaneously and in tandem."

The U.S. played a pivotal role in bringing an end to a decades-long civil war that pitted Sudan's Muslim Arabs from the north against Christian and animist Africans from the south. By the time the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, bringing an end to the shooting, bombing, raping and killing, an estimated 2 million people had died.

Having done its bit for southern Sudan, U.S. attention shifted to the killing fields of Darfur in the west. Colin Powell described as "genocide" the government-sponsored raids and aerial bombardments of rebels and civilians alike.

Darfur has been in the headlines ever since and, with overwhelming world attention focused there, Sudan's north-south peace agreement was forgotten and has been left to fall apart.

Sudan is Africa's largest country and threatens to become its biggest mess. Swaths of its vast territory are ungoverned and the legacy of decades of fighting is an astonishing number of weapons, up to 3.2 million according to some estimates.

The clock is ticking said retired general Scott Gration, the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan: "We're acutely aware of the urgency of our task and the shortness of our timeline ... Success requires frank dialogue."

An ill-prepared national election looms in April next year which, if it is not widely regarded as free and fair, will add fuel to the separatist fires. And in 2011 a referendum will be held — in accordance with 2005's CPA — on whether southern Sudanese should be able to secede.

The new U.S. policy has three objectives: to end the fighting in Darfur and so the suffering of people there; to shore up and fully implement the north/south peace deal; and to ensure that Sudan does not become a terrorist haven as it was in the 1990s when Khartoum hosted Osama bin Laden.