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Africa: Powell Warns Sudan To Stop Arab Militia Violence In Darfur

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is threatening Sudan with unspecified UN Security Council action unless the government brings an end to Arab militia violence in the Darfur region. Powell told Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum yesterday that "horrific" acts by the militias have created a humanitarian catastrophe in western Sudan. The United Nations has described the 15-month Darfur conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Administrators of UN relief groups say up to 2 million people are now in need of food and that a million people have been forced to flee their homes. Washington says between 10,000 and 30,000 people have been killed in fighting between the government-backed Janjaweed militia and black Africans. Sudan's Islamist government denies it supports the Janjaweed. But it also continues to block aid workers, journalists, and independent human rights monitors from getting into Darfur to verify what is happening.

Prague, 30 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Secretary of State's warning to the government of Sudan yesterday stressed the need for immediate action on four issues.

Powell told Sudanese President Bashir in Khartoum that Arab militia attacks on villagers in Darfur must be halted immediately. He said Sudan also must provide full access to Darfur for humanitarian aid workers, allow an increase in the number of international cease-fire monitors and restart political talks with rebel groups in the region.

"The international community believes that unless we see more movement soon in all of these areas, it may be necessary for the international community to begin considering other actions -- to include [UN] Security Council action," Powell said.

Powell did not specify what steps the U.S. government might take if Khartoum fails to act on his warning. But he noted that Washington already is working on a UN resolution about Darfur that could lead to international sanctions. Powell also suggested Sudan could miss out on benefits that the government expects for resolving a separate conflict in southern Sudan earlier this year -- such as improved relations with the United States.

Underscoring Washington's warning was the arrival today of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Khartoum just as Powell was leaving on a visit to Darfur. Annan also plans to visit the troubled region after his talks with Sudanese officials, which were aimed at demonstrating the high level of international concern about the Darfur crisis. So far, both Annan and Powell have avoided using the word "genocide" to describe the situation -- a designation that analysts note would make international intervention obligatory.

New York-based Human Rights Watch is one of several nongovernmental organizations that considers the Darfur crisis to be the result of "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity." Stephan van Praet, advocacy director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL today he doesn't think warnings alone from Powell or Annan will be enough to pressure the Sudanese government into action.

"These comments [from Powell] are hopeful for the suffering population of Darfur. But of course, comments alone will not be enough. There has to be clear monitoring of what the Sudanese government will do in regard to the actions of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur. It is clear that the United States and the United Nations, and the African Union also, should press the Sudanese authorities to reverse this ethnic cleansing and permit full humanitarian access to the region," van Praet said.

Van Praet welcomed Powell's four demands as a step in the right direction. But Van Praet says Powell also should have included a demand for independent human rights monitors to be allowed into Darfur.

Meanwhile, UN human rights researcher Asma Jahangir said today her two-week investigation in Darfur found "strong indications of crimes against humanity" and, in her words, "absolutely clear indications" that the Janjaweed militia was being protected by the Sudanese government.

The Sudanese government denies that it has supported the Janjaweed militia or any kind of ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur. Foreign Minister Ismail said at a joint press conference with Powell yesterday he hopes agreement can be reached with Powell and Annan this week on how to manage security and humanitarian operations.

"President Bashir also gave a detailed account on the government effort to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur with a special emphasis on the recent decisions and measures he personally has taken," Ismail said.

But one senior official in Powell's delegation says there is skepticism in Washington about Sudan's denials. That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he is still waiting to see evidence of action in Darfur on the promises that Bashir made several weeks ago. That U.S. official also repeated a warning that up to a million displaced Sudanese could die this year inside refugee camps in Darfur unless Khartoum stops delaying international aid deliveries.