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U.S. Envoy's Outreach to Sudan Is Criticized as Naive

Elsewhere during the trip, the reception was less festive.

In southern Sudan's capital of Juba, the region's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, told Gration he is concerned that the envoy's approach is emboldening the ruling party to dictate unfavorable terms for the south's secession vote, such as demanding 75 percent turnout. Southerners have repeatedly accused the government of arming militias to create chaos ahead of the vote, and tribal violence has killed 2,000 people in the south this year.

But in his meeting with Kiir, Gration backed the ruling party's argument, saying it had legitimate concerns about the referendum. Gration urged southerners to trust the government that waged a brutal war against them for 20 years.

"It is the other side that can build trust," Kiir countered during a news conference. "How will you trust that person that was killing you yesterday?"

In the western region of Darfur, leaders from several camps of displaced people told Gration that security has not improved. Ahmed Ali Osman said 22 camp leaders had been arrested recently for resisting a government plan to tax a market inside a camp. Hawa Abdallah Mohamed said there is still "rape and intimidation and different types of harassment by pro-government armed elements."

And as Musa Tohlil addressed Gration, he wore a yellow patch over one eye, saying he could not look at the envoy with both of them.

"We have a concern about you, sir, that you will go to Bashir and ask him what to do," he said.

Tohlil and others accused Gration of backing a government plan to force displaced Darfurians to return home, where many fear they will be attacked again. Leaders see the plan as a government attempt to erase the Darfur problem and destroy the rebels' political base.

Gration, a son of missionaries who spent most of his childhood in Africa, agreed that security must improve, and he strongly denied backing forced returns. Then, as he said many times during the trip, he urged people to focus on preparing for an eventual return home that he said would be made voluntarily and "with dignity."

"We can't change injustices and atrocities that happened in previous years," he said, as the leaders took notes. "But we can change things for your children."

Near El Fasher, Gration delivered his message to a group of women in the Abu Shouk camp. It has been transformed into a sprawl of straw-roofed huts and brick walls since the start of the conflict, which some experts estimate has killed as many as 400,000 people and left 1.7 million displaced.

"We've been receiving visits from senior officials from the U.S.," a frustrated Majda al Faki Adam told Gration. "But we don't feel the impact of those visits."

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