U.S. Lawmakers concerned about the situation in Sudan's western Darfur region are trying to restore U.S. funds to help pay for African Union (AU) peacekeeping efforts there. A total of $50-million was dropped during congressional negotiations on U.S. foreign spending, sparking criticism and questions about Congress' commitment.
When Congress was in the process of working out final funding levels for foreign operations spending in November, an amount that might seem small to veteran appropriators, but large to those it would have reached, was removed from legislation.
The dropping of $50 million that was to have gone to support the African Union Mission in Darfur didn't attract much attention until several weeks after the Foreign Operations bill was finalized.
Only recently has the absence of the funds been noted during deliberations of the House of Representatives.
Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer criticized what he called the puzzling deletion of the funds. "The Foreign Operations Appropriations inexplicably dropped 50 million dollars in conference that would have gone to support peacekeepers from the African Union. Today, I am talking to the eight-thousand men and women on Capitol Hill who make things happen in Congress. Don't go home unless you ask what your office, your committee, your boss, your member of Congress is going to do to stop the murder, rape, the destruction and the violence. At the very least, work to restore the 50 million dollars [by putting it] in the defense appropriations [bill] so that 77-hundred African Union peacekeepers can be on the job. Seventy-seven hundred people for an area the size of Texas doesn't sound like too much," he said.
Amid continuing complaints from humanitarian organizations and others concerned about Darfur, last-minute efforts are under way to restore the money.
The most likely legislative vehicle would be the 453-billion dollar defense appropriations bill the House and Senate need to approve before adjourning for a long holiday break.
Lawmakers frequently attach last-minute spending needs to defense, and other legislation.
However, as lawmakers work their way through this and other major bills near the end of the congressional session, there is still no indication that the money for AU peacekeeping will be restored.
A State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said Wednesday the United States believes it is very important that the African Union mission can continue. Another State Department official told VOA a "dialogue" is under way with Congress to work out a way to re-insert the money for Darfur peacekeeping operations.
U.S. officials as well as members of Congress are concerned about continuing violence in Darfur, where attacks on civilians by Arab militia and banditry against humanitarian convoys continue.
Fifty million dollars would help keep the African Union peacekeeping effort going approximately until the middle of next year based on an estimated per month cost of between eight and 10 million dollars.
The United States has already provided more than 160-million dollars toward peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, and has played a major role in airlifting AU troops.
The House of Representatives aims to take up the defense appropriations bill, which could be modified to carry the money for Darfur peace operations, in the next two days.