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Rice Urges Swift Action by World Community on Darfur Crisis

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday the international community must act with great speed to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region. She spoke after the U.N. Security Council late Thursday approved a resolution that, despite U.S. misgivings, gives the International Criminal Court responsibility to try Darfur war criminals.

The Bush administration has strongly opposed the International Criminal Court, contending its powers are unchecked by any controlling authority, and three years ago it withdrew the United States' signature from the Rome treaty setting up the ICC

But in a conciliatory move to key U.S. allies aimed at speeding action on Darfur war crimes, the United States late Thursday abstained on, rather than vetoed, a Security Council Resolution giving the ICC jurisdiction for Darfur prosecutions.

That cleared the way for approval of the measure by an 11-0 vote with Algeria, Brazil and China also abstaining.

At a press appearance Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear the United States had not changed its view on the ICC. But she said the situation in Darfur is an extraordinary circumstance in which crimes against humanity are clearly being committed, and that the world cannot afford further delay in addressing it.

"The international community has to act on Darfur,” said Ms. Rice. “It has to act with great speed. It is a humanitarian crisis. It is a moral crisis, and it is a crisis that is extraordinary in its scope and in its potential for even greater damage to those populations."

The United States had supported an alternate idea for a Darfur war crimes court to be set up in Tanzania, but it drew little support.

It agreed to accept the resolution empowering the ICC for the job after days of negotiations including last minute bargaining on language exempting U.S. citizens from the court's jurisdiction.

Officials here said the United States had practical, in addition to ideological, problems with ICC involvement with Darfur, including the fact that it cannot prosecute crimes committed before the court came into being in 2002.

But they say at the direction of Ms. Rice, the United States abstained on the resolution anyway in deference to its key supporters including France and Britain.

Thursday's resolution on Sudan was the third in a week after months of delay that had raised widespread criticism of the Security Council for its inaction.

March 24 it approved a measure setting up a 10,000 member force to shore up Sudan's north-south peace agreement, and Tuesday the council approved travel and financial sanctions for individuals who commit Darfur atrocities or violate cease-fire agreements.

The Darfur conflict, pitting local rebels against Sudanese government forces and Arab militia allies, broke out two years ago and has killed an estimated 300,000 black African villagers, displacing more than two million more.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, after an extensive U.S. examination of the issue last year, labeled the Darfur violence genocide.

In a talk with reporters Friday, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns said the Bush administration acceded to the resolution on the ICC because of the need for the world community to speak with one voice on justice in Darfur.

The State Department official said passage of the Sudan resolutions has sent a strong and unmistakable signal to those responsible for the Darfur conflict that should quickly prompt better behavior and an improvement in the human rights situation.

Mr. Burns said Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will represent the United States at a Sudan donors conference in Oslo opening April 11, and that he may visit Khartoum and Darfur afterwards.