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President George W. Bush has condemned the campaign of killing and village-burning underway in Sudan’s western Darfur region. In a written statement, Mr. Bush said the Sudanese government “must immediately stop local militias from committing atrocities against the local population and must provide unrestricted access to humanitarian aid agencies.” Mr. Bush said he expressed his views directly to Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir.

At the invitation of the Sudanese government, the United Nations is planning to send officials to Darfur to investigate. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that seven-hundred-fifty thousand people have been displaced by the violence and an additional one-hundred-ten thousand have sought refuge in neighboring Chad.

The U.S. is gravely concerned about the situation in western Sudan, says State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli:

“It is clear to us that government-supported militia groups, that are called the Janjaweed, are continuing to burn villages and kill and abuse civilians and that there’s a massive humanitarian crisis going on there.”

Over the years, Arab and African communities in Darfur have often clashed over land and scarce resources. The current conflict began about a year ago when armed African opposition groups demanded that the Sudanese government deal with longstanding grievances over development. The government responded by supporting the Arab militias in their attacks on villages.

The Darfur conflict is only one aspect of the troubling situation in Sudan. For more than two and a half years, the U.S. has been working with the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement to end the fighting that has split the country’s northern and southern regions. “This civil war,” says President Bush, “is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of our time, responsible for the deaths of two-million people over two decades. Achieving peace, and reaching a just and comprehensive agreement,” he says, “must be an urgent priority for both sides.”