Members of Congress are urging the Bush administration to move forcefully in coming weeks to increase pressure on the Sudanese government to allow a U.N. force for Darfur. Lawmakers heard from a U.S. official and experts about deteriorating conditions in Darfur, as well as from a prominent activist.
Wednesday's hearing in the House Africa Subcommittee came as African leaders meeting in New York agreed to extend the mandate of the African Union force in Darfur at least until the end of the year.
Extension eases fears of a security vacuum amid signs of new conflict between the Khartoum government and Darfur rebels.
However, the Islamic Congress Party government in Khartoum continues to resist international efforts to send a 20,000-strong U.N. force, a fact driven home by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.
Witnesses told the congressional panel that signs of an impending government offensive, and with attacks already escalating in Darfur, the situation there could grow worse very quickly.
Roger Winter worked on Sudan issues for the State Department:
"While Darfur is a humanitarian catastrophe, and it is a genocide, it is more than that," said Roger Winter. "It is a planful [deliberate] strategy that we are seeing unfolding in Darfur."
Winter favors deployment of the U.N. protection force - over the objections of the Khartoum government:
"We need to deploy non-consensually now, the stymied U.N. protection force," he said. "We need to declare a no-fly zone, and in fact we have military assets in Djibouti that can be used for those purposes."
Republican Congressman Ed Royce is among those worried that the situation in Darfur, and in Sudan generally, could unravel.
"The Sudanese government is about to unleash a round of killing like we have never seen before in Sudan," said Ed Royce. "This calamity is playing out before our eyes."
The Associated Press Wednesday quoted the new U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, as confirming the U.S. has begun a new diplomatic push aimed at getting Arab governments, and other countries to help persuade Khartoum to drop objections to a U.N. force.
Natsios was quoted as saying the role of China, with close ties to the Khartoum government, would be crucial.
Congressman Chris Smith agrees.
"While the Chinese government continues to suppress its own citizen's human rights they nonetheless can attain some respect on the world stage by standing with the oppressed in Darfur, rather than the oppressor in Khartoum, which has been the case up until now," said Chris Smith.
Warwick Davies Webb of Executive Research Associates urges steps to adjust the composition of a potential U.N. force.
"Greater effort should be made to make the prospect of U.N. deployment a global rather than a U.S. or NATO initiative, and one in which the composition of such a force is more neutral and includes the deployment of troops from moderate Muslim countries as suggested by [former] president Bill Clinton," said Warwick Davies.
Among witnesses was Mira Sorvino, the American actress and a prominent activist on Darfur with the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign.
"Now the U.S. and the U.N. must begin playing hardball in earnest with the Khartoum regime," said Mira Sorvino. "The days of offering incentives and waiting for the government of Sudan to grow a conscience are over. We must apply pressure with serious consequences to propel them to accept the U.N. peacekeeping mission."
Thursday may bring some word on whether congressional legislation on Darfur will move ahead.
Legislation called the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, approved by the House earlier, has been stalled because of differences with the Senate over sanctions-related language."