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Bush Asks Congress For Emergency Darfur Aid

Two million people have been made homeless by the fighting in the Darfur region (AFP) U.S. President George W. Bush today asked Congress to approve an additional $225 million in emergency food aid to the refugees in Sudan's Darfur region, and urged the United Nations to increase the size of its peacekeeping force there. He also welcomed the recent peace proposal as a chance for renewal in the war-torn area.

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Bush said the refugees in Darfur have received the sympathy of people around the world, but need more -- specifically, food and protection from government-backed militias.

"The vulnerable people of Darfur deserve more than sympathy," Bush said. "They deserve the active protection that UN peacekeepers can provide."

At least 180,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur, and 2 million have been driven from their homes to squalid camps along Sudan's western border with Chad.

Speaking at the White House, Bush was accompanied by his deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, who has just returned from a visit to Darfur.

Bush praised the proposed peace accord reached on May 5. It was signed by the Sudanese government and the Sudanese Liberation Army, the country's chief rebel group. But so far, two smaller rebel groups have not signed the accord.

Bush called the agreement an opportunity for a new beginning in Darfur.

"We're still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear. But we can now see a way forward," he said.

A Phone Call To Sudan's President

In order to strengthen the tentative peace accord, Bush said he has asked Congress to approve $225 million in food aid for Darfur, and has ordered five ships carrying 40,000 tons of food to the region.

Bush said the United States has fulfilled its commitments to deliver aid to Darfur, and urged other countries and the European Union to do likewise. He said Washington is responsible for more than 85 percent of the food aid distributed in Sudan.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked Sudan to grant visas to a group of UN officials to visit Darfur to plan for a UN peacekeeping force, which would take over for the 7,200 hard-pressed troops sent in by the African Union.

The Sudanese government says the UN delegation will be turned back. Bush said it is time for Khartoum to relent.

"The government of Sudan must allow all UN agencies to do their work without hindrance. They should remove the visa and travel restrictions that complicate relief efforts," he said. "And all sides must cease attacks on relief workers."

Bush said he spoke by phone with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and urged him to allow the quick deployment of UN peacekeepers. He also announced that he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the UN Security Council tomorrow to urge the world body to act quickly in deploying peacekeepers.