Diplomatic Efforts Will Be Stepped Up in Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan Russia is planning to step up its diplomatic involvement in African issues including Sudan's Darfur crisis, Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said Sunday.

"Russia is back in Africa," Margelov, appointed as Russia's envoy to Sudan in December, told reporters at the start of a six-day visit to Sudan.

He said Moscow had an "open door" to anyone looking for support for development projects.

Russia's involvement in Africa peaked during the days of the Cold War when it vied with the United States for influence over many of thecontinent's newly independent states.

"Russia is ready to play a more active role on the African continent," Margelov said. "We want our voice to be heard in all the international discussions on African problems. We understand our part of the responsibility for what is happening in the African continent, and we are serious about it."

Margelov said his government was still formulating its position on Sudan's festering Darfur conflict and on a looming International Criminal Court case against Sudan's presidentover purported war crimes in Darfur.

The world court's chief prosecutor has asked judges to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing him of orchestrating genocide during almost six years of conflict in the remote western region.

The judges are expected to rule on the request in coming weeks.

Russia's position on the case is key because as a permanent member of the UN Security Council it has the power either to propose or veto a postponement of the case in the world court.

Russia has so far not made any moves to postpone the proceedings.

Margelov said he was planning to visit Washington and European capitals in February to discuss the world court case and its impact on Sudan. He added that he was also planning to visit Darfur and Juba, the capital of Sudan's semiautonomous south, during his visit.

"I will not say that Russia is ready to formulate its position. We are working on our position now," he added.