A New Obstacle To Normal Relations For Sudan, U.S. Sudan says it has met the demands of the international community and wants U.S. sanctions lifted. But the two countries are at odds over recent fighting in the southern part of Sudan.

A New Obstacle To Normal Relations For Sudan, U.S.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that the conflict is hurting Sudan's chances of a more normal relationship with Washington and of getting off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A member of the ruling party in Khartoum and a former Sudanese ambassador to Washington, Mahdi Ibrahim, says his country is changing and so, too, should its relationship with the U.S.

MAHDI IBRAHIM: An era has come to an end, and a new era is ushering in. The new Sudan needs to be listened to.

KELEMEN: From his perspective, Sudan did what the U.S. and others wanted. That they accepted the outcome of an independence vote in the south allowed a new country to emerge. Still, he's holding out little hope that this will be enough to get off the terrorism blacklist.

IBRAHIM: And we have been promised time after time and across all the presidential envoys that once a peace agreement is passed, Sudan will be lifted from the list of countries harboring terrorism. But each time, we realize the bar is raised.

KELEMEN: He says the fighting in Southern Kordofan is the latest example of that rising bar. Sudan accuses rebels of starting the conflict. A recently released U.N. report alleges that the Sudanese military is responsible for possible war crimes. And as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, points out, U.N. peacekeepers are no longer on the ground to check.

SUSAN RICE: We are really flying blind, so when the high commissioner for human rights calls for an immediate, independent and comprehensive investigation, it's vital that that occur.

KELEMEN: The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator, Valerie Amos, is also worried about the basic needs in the troubled region.

VALERIE AMOS: We have not been able to resupply in terms of food aid, and I'm worried that it is running out.

KELEMEN: Sudan agreed to allow U.N. aid officials to go to South Kordofan to assess the needs. But Mahdi Ibrahim, who chairs the foreign relations committee of Sudan's parliament, is still leery about the U.N.'s desire to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

IBRAHIM: Out of all these experiences, we feel that this is an open project of continued intervention in Sudan. Don't allow this country to be stable: This is the very clear message that we see.

KELEMEN: In an interview with NPR, Ambassador Rice firmly rejects that, saying the U.S. and others want to see a new peaceful Sudan. But she points out that the government there has a long record of carrying out atrocities, whether in Southern Sudan or Darfur, so she's worried that observers can't see what's happening in Kordofan now.

RICE: And that we have to begin to speculate is the result of the fact that they don't want the international community to be able to validate these horrific reports of everything from mass arrests to executions, mass graves and aerial bombardments, which we know to be a fact and a regular tool of warfare against civilians by the government of Sudan.

KELEMEN: Given the lack of access, activists are trying another way to shed light on reported atrocities in South Kordofan by releasing satellite images of what they say are mass graves. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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