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Sudan's Leader Wins Release of U.S. Funds

April 02, 1985|DOYLE McMANUS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiri, his rule under attack at home, met with President Reagan on Monday and won the release of $67 million in U.S. aid that had been held up until he imposed an economic austerity program.

The belt-tightening measures touched off riots in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, but Numeiri told Reagan that he is confident of retaining power, U.S. officials said.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan praised Numeiri's economic moves, which included cutting the Sudanese government's budget deficit and raising the prices of bread and gasoline, as "highly commendable actions, worthy of international donor support."

Praise for Program

"It is clear that the government of Sudan is taking the steps that are required to bring its economy under control while it is faced with the added difficulties of drought and refugee emergencies," Speakes said.

He said the $67 million released Monday was approved by Congress for fiscal 1984 but never disbursed. Another $114 million has been approved for the current fiscal year and may be released later if Numeiri's economic austerity efforts continue, Speakes indicated.

Reagan also agreed to provide an additional 225,000 tons of grain to Sudan, bringing total food aid to 975,000 tons this year. Sudan has suffered from the same drought as neighboring Ethiopia, and an estimated 1 million Ethiopian refugees have entered Sudanese territory.

Ten days ago, the U.S. Air Force quietly moved more than 500 Ethiopian Jews from a Sudanese refugee camp to Israel with the tacit permission of Numeiri's government. A senior U.S. official who attended Numeiri's meeting with Reagan said the two presidents did not specifically discuss the airlift, which Sudan, a heavily Arab country, has never acknowledged.

They did, however, discuss the refugee problem in general, and Reagan praised Numeiri's handling of the issue, U.S. officials said.

"With the generosity typical of the American people, (Reagan) assured me that this country will do what it can to help the Sudan and Africa and all the refugees," Numeiri told reporters after the meeting. "If it were not for the generosity of countries like the United States and private relief agencies, many, many thousands of people would have starved to death."

Numeiri was in Washington on a visit that included both medical checkups and appointments with Administration officials.

In his absence from Khartoum, thousands of people rioted to protest the economic austerity measures last week, and labor and professional groups were reported planning a general strike for Wednesday. About a dozen leaders of the doctors' and lawyers' unions were arrested.

A senior Administration official who spoke with reporters on condition that he not be identified said that Numeiri "touched briefly on the situation in Khartoum and appeared to have a fairly confident view of it."

"We don't have the impression that there is some imminent dramatic event about to take place," the official said.

Oil Funds Included

He said the unfrozen aid to Sudan includes funds to enable Numeiri's regime to buy more oil on the international market and a U.S. commodity import program.

Numeiri is negotiating for more economic aid with both the Reagan Administration and the International Monetary Fund, to which Sudan owes approximately $120 million in overdue loan payments.

The U.S. official said the two presidents also discussed Numeiri's recent, halting steps toward political reconciliation with leaders in the non-Arab southern part of his country, which has spawned several secessionist movements.

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