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6/29/04 - POWELL TRAVELS TO DARFUR - 2004-06-29

Arab militias have destroyed more than three-hundred villages of black Africans in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. The Sudanese government initiated this campaign of ethnic cleansing about a year ago, and continues to support the militias, particularly the Janjaweed. The Arab militia attacks have killed as many as thirty-thousand people, most of them civilians. More than one-million people have been driven from their homes.

The U.S. and other countries have been rushing humanitarian aid to Darfur, as well as to neighboring Chad, where more than one-hundred-thousand Sudanese have sought refuge. But the Sudanese government has raised many barriers to the delivery of aid. Unless a lot more aid reaches Darfur soon, says the U.S. Agency for International Development, more than three-hundred-thousand people could die of disease and starvation in the coming months.

That is why U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is visiting Sudan. He says the situation in Darfur is already a “catastrophe”:

“Let the aid flow freely, let humanitarian workers in. Use government forces and political influence to end the attacks, and to act in a very responsible way to help these people as fast as we can. The situation is so dire that if we were able to do everything we wanted to do, tomorrow, there would still be a large loss of life because of the deprivations that people are under now.”

Secretary of State Powell has been coordinating U.S. efforts on Darfur with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is also visiting Sudan. It is hoped that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will keep his promise to disarm the Arab militias. So far, says U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, there is little sign of action on the promise:

“In fact, we’ve heard some say that the government might now be retracting that statement. We strongly urge and will strongly urge the government of Sudan to fulfill President Bashir’s declaration to immediately disarm the militias and provide unfettered humanitarian access. We would also note that we hold the Darfur rebels responsible for the cease-fire as well.”

People are suffering every day in Darfur, says Mr. Boucher, and the U.S. is committed to doing “everything we can to help them.”