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3/5/04 - FIGHTING IN SUDAN - 2004-03-05

There is a crisis in Darfur, in the western part of Sudan. The province is one of the poorest in the country and is suffering from drought. Fighting erupted in the region in 2003. Sudanese forces and their Islamic militia allies, known as the Janjawid, are pitted against local rebels. The rebels are opposed to policies of the Khartoum government that have intensified tensions over grazing and water rights. They are also upset over the lack of resources, development, and investment dedicated by the government to the region. No one knows for certain how many have been killed, but some observers put the figure at more than three-thousand.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that in Darfur there is no civil order and that Sudanese government authorities have refused to permit unrestricted access for humanitarian workers:

“Thieves have put as many as one-million people at imminent risk of life and livelihood. Particularly threatening are the actions of government-supported militias, who continue to attack and burn undefended villages.”

The U.S., the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and others are attempting to provide aid. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir said that his government would end military operations and allow access for humanitarian aid. But Mr. Boucher says “the results of that pledge seem to have been limited”:

“There is a broad effort, of which we’re playing an important part. The diplomacy and the relief have been not only U.S. efforts but international efforts. But they require the cooperation of the government and of the opposition to allow access to stop the fighting and reach a cease-fire.”

The U.S. has offered to assist negotiations aimed at resolving procedures to begin delivering humanitarian assistance to Darfur. The U.S. stands by that offer, says State Department spokesman Boucher. But the government of Sudan has not yet responded.