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US Calls on Sudan to Allow Humanitarian Aid for Darfur Refugees - 2004-05-18

The U.S. administration is pressing Sudan to provide unfettered access for humanitarian relief to refugees in the western Darfur region who are fleeing fighting between local rebels and government-supported Arab militias.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says it is time for Sudan to stop blocking or delaying humanitarian relief operations.

"We are pressing the government of Sudan for unrestricted access to Darfur," he said. "We are urging other governments to do the same."

Mr. Powell says access has improved a bit in recent weeks, but he still describes it as inadequate.

U.S. officials estimate 10,000 people have been killed and one million more have been uprooted by the year-long battle between local rebels and government-backed Arab militias.

A truce reached about a month ago was to have ended the fighting but more violence has been reported in recent days.

"We call on all parties to observe the ceasefire and for the government of Sudan to rein in these lawless militias immediately,"

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has also called on Sudan to disarm the militias.

Despite complaints about Sudan's handling of the Darfur crisis, the State Department has removed Sudan from the list of governments it says are not cooperating with the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

Spokesman Richard Boucher says the action is mostly symbolic because Sudan remains on Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"Sudan has taken a number of positive steps on cooperation against terrorism over the past few years," said Mr. Boucher. "The U.S.-Sudanese bilateral counter terrorism information sharing has improved remarkably but they remain on the state terrorism list because of the presence of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and some other concerns we have."

Governments on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism are banned from American military sales and services.

Mr. Boucher says the State Department's consideration of Sudan's role in the anti-terrorism campaign is separate from its assessment of Khartoum's role in the Darfur crisis.

"It doesn't change the kind of pressure, the strong pressure we are bringing on Sudan from us and others in the international community to change their behavior in Darfur," he added.

The crisis in western Sudan has overshadowed peace talks under way in Kenya. The negotiations, which are a Bush administration priority, aim at ending two decades of civil war between Sudan's Islamic government and the mostly Christian and animist rebels in the south. Secretary Powell says both sides are close to an agreement but not yet there.