31 Jul 2009

Take Sudan off terror list, special US envoy says

8:55 pm on 31 July 2009

The US special envoy to Sudan says there's no case for keeping Sudan on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, and recommends easing American sanctions.

The statement by General Scott Gration comes amid debate in the US over the Sudanese region of Darfur, where according to the United Nations 300,000 people have died in six years of conflict.

Sudan, along with Cuba, Iran and Syria, is designated as a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the US State Department and is subject to sanctions, including restrictions on aid.

But General Gration says he knows of no intelligence to justify Sudan's terror listing and believes the sanctions may be counter-productive to efforts to bring peace to Sudan.

"There is no evidence in our intelligence community that supports (Sudan) being on the state sponsors of terrorism list," General Gration said. "It's a political decision."

The retired air-force general's mandate is to try to sustain a 2005 peace accord that ended a two-decade civil war between Sudan's north and south and to help restore stability to the western Darfur region after years of fighting between government and rebel forces.

Blocked from doing the things 'we need to do'

The north-south peace deal established an interim period, with a coalition government between the Muslim north and mostly Christian south and the sharing of oil wealth. It ends in 18 months with a referendum in the south on whether to secede.

"We are actually hurting the very development things we need to do help the south become ... if they chose to secede, a viable economic state," the general says, noting that Washington currently cannot bring in heavy equipment to build roads and railways.

"At some point," he says, "we are going to have to unwind some of these sanctions so that we can do the very things that we need to do to ensure a peaceful transition and a state that's viable in the (south) should they choose to do that."

In its latest report the State Department describes Sudan as a "cooperative partner in global counterterrorism efforts".