As Sudan seeks sanctions relief, U.S. presses religious freedom

Reuters , Tuesday 29 Aug 2017

The United States has raised the issue of religious freedom in talks about easing sanctions on Sudan, the new head of the U.S. Agency for International Development said in Sudan on Tuesday.

The head of the agency, Mark Green, held the talks with senior Sudanese officials as the U.S. government weighs whether to ease or extend the 20-year-old sanctions, a decision that must be made by Oct. 12.

"We have asked questions and ... have received assurances," Green told reporters after a meeting with Sudanese Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh.

While human rights and religious freedom are not conditions for the permanent lifting of some Sudan sanctions, the U.S. government is increasingly raising them as a concern.

Religious leaders have complained that churches have been bulldozed by the government and priests arrested, stoking fears among Christians that they will not be able to practice their faith in majority-

Muslim Sudan.

During his three-day visit to Sudan - the first by a senior U.S. official since 2005 - Green met with various religious organizations, including churches and religious freedom lawyers.

In his meetings on Tuesday, Green said he had acknowledged "meaningful steps" by the government in complying with U.S. conditions for easing the sanctions. Among those conditions are improved 

humanitarian access for aid workers, counter-terrorism cooperation and a resolution of internal conflicts.

"The government is continuing a gradual reversal of long-standing impediments," Green said, "and I urge the government to accelerate its work in this regard."

Earlier, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said his country was looking forward to normal ties being restored.

"On our side we look forward for a normalization of our relations with an important country ... the U.S.," said Ghandour, who has overseen dialogue with Washington on the sanctions.

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