updated 2/8/2007 2:55:45 PM ET 2007-02-08T19:55:45

Bill Richardson, a former ambassador and a current U.S. governor and presidential candidate, returned to the United Nations on Wednesday to meet the new U.N. secretary-general and to call for increased international pressure on Sudan’s president to end the conflict in Darfur.

Richardson said he briefed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — who just returned from an Africa trip that included talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir — on his visit to Sudan in January, where he also met the Sudanese leader. He said he got the Sudanese government and three rebel groups to agree to a 30-day cease-fire, though one reneged the following day.

Richardson said he told Ban he strongly backed the secretary-general’s appointment of a special envoy to try to get all rebel groups to return to talks and sign a peace deal and the creation of a “hybrid” African Union-United Nations force to help end the four-year conflict in Darfur.

“The first message is, I believe the United Nations and the special envoy is the most important entity in bringing peace to Darfur and easing a massive humanitarian crisis,” the New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate said.

Seeking means to ‘allow this hybrid force in’
A 7,000-strong African Union force is currently on the ground in Darfur, but Richardson said, “I believe it’s critically important that the international community continue its pressure to make it a U.N. force.”

“The A.U. is there, but I believe trained peacekeepers by the United Nations will ease the crisis substantially. So that should be a major effort of the international community, the United States, the U.N. and anybody else,” he said.

But Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, current head of the U.S. Mission, said “we haven’t found yet the levers with Bashir that will allow this hybrid force in.”

Sudanese officials agreed in November on a three-phase U.N. package to help end the escalating violence in Darfur that culminates with the deployment of a 22,000-strong A.U.-U.N. force. But al-Bashir said last month that U.N. troops were not required in Darfur because the 7,000-strong African Union force on the ground could maintain order.

Richardson said he believes the Bush administration’s policy on Darfur “is moving in the right direction” and that U.S. special envoy Andrew Natsios “is doing a good job.”

“But there has to be continued engagement,” he said. “I believe that Bashir has in the last three months responded somewhat but needs to do considerably more.”

Calls for permanent envoy in Sudan ...
Richardson said the United Nations should put a new permanent envoy in Sudan and keep special envoy Jan Eliasson, who is focusing on a political settlement, in the region for a longer period.

As part of the effort to re-energize the peace process, Eliasson and the A.U.’s special envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, are heading to Khartoum and Darfur from Feb. 12-17.

“There’s got to be somebody constantly on the ground pushing to get both sides together, to talk to the rebels. The rebels are fractionalized,” Richardson said.

... and greater role for China
He said the African Union, Arab countries, and especially China must continue exerting pressure on al-Bashir.

“China must play a more important role,” Richardson said. “China and Sudan have strong economic ties, and I was pleased that China made that statement that they were pushing for peace in Darfur. But it has to be significant movement.”

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million been chased from their homes in Sudan’s remote western region since 2003, when rebels stemming from ethnic African tribes rose up against the central government.

Khartoum is accused of having responded with indiscriminate killings by unleashing the janjaweed militias of Arab nomads blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur, in a conflict that the White House and others have labeled genocide. The government denies these charges.

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