'Great concern' over Darfur security
Washington - US Vice President Joe Biden "expressed great concern" Monday that security conditions in Darfur "continue to deteriorate" just months before Sudan is to split into separate states, the White House said.
Biden's comments were made during a White House meeting with former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is chairperson of the African Union's special panel for Sudan.
"The vice president underscored the importance of ensuring the establishment of two viable states in Sudan after the south's independence in July and stressed that a resolution to the situation in Darfur must be part of that process," according to an official readout of the meeting.
Also attending the meeting were former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar, and former Burundi president Pierre Buyoya, both of whom are members of the Sudan panel.
On Darfur, Biden "expressed great concern that security conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate and are further aggravated by important restrictions on peacekeepers' and humanitarian workers' access to vulnerable populations", the statement said.
Last week, heavy clashes between the Sudanese army and a coalition of armed groups in northern Darfur caused several casualties on both sides.
Renewed fighting between rebels and the army over the past four months has resulted in more than 70 000 new arrivals at camps in Darfur set up for the displaced, according to United Nations reports.
At least 300 000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people forced to flee their homes since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, according to the United Nations.
The government puts the death toll at 10 000.
On Monday, Biden expressed appreciation "for the panel's role in brokering the recent commitment by Sudanese leaders to withdraw northern and southern forces from Abyei".
The flashpoint border region's future is the most sensitive of a raft of issues which Khartoum and Juba are negotiating ahead of southern independence in July.