The Bush administration said Monday it would welcome fulfillment of a promise by Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to disarm government-backed Arab militiamen blamed for severe human rights abuses in Sudan's western Darfur region. The United States threatened sanctions against Sudanese leaders because of the crisis last week.
The Bush administration has been sharply critical of Sudanese authorities for failing to rein in the so-called "janjaweed" militiamen, who have been using scorched-earth tactics against African villagers as part of a year-old campaign against Darfur rebels.
In what is seen here as a response to international pressure, the Sudanese president said Saturday he was mobilizing forces to disarm all illegal armed groups, including the "janjaweed," and to prevent them from crossing into neighboring Chad, where many of those displaced from Darfur have sought refuge.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration has taken favorable note of the announcement by the Sudanese leader, and is looking to see that his stated commitments translate into action.
"Certainly, the United States would very much welcome the government taking action, finally, in this region to stop the attacks and to really abide by the cease-fire that was announced, and signed on April 8," he said. "We would also note that in Darfur, the rebels also have a responsibility to observe the cease-fire as well."
The Darfur conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and left an estimated one million homeless, many of whom are said to face death from starvation and related illness unless massive relief shipments arrive in the coming weeks.
The Bush administration last Friday said it was considering targeted sanctions against senior members of the Khartoum government unless it took action to control the militiamen.
The United States has termed the assault on Darfur villagers "ethnic-cleansing," and officials say the situation threatens to reverse improvements in U.S. Sudanese relations driven by successful north-south peace talks and cooperation against terrorism.
Spokesman Boucher acknowledged Monday that U.S. and other international relief experts are entering Darfur in growing numbers, since the Khartoum government eased bureaucratic restrictions on access to the area.
He also said African Union Chairman Alpha Omar Konare had arrived in Darfur to review progress in setting up a commission led by the AU to monitor the April 8 cease-fire.
The AU says the visit by Mr. Konare, the former president of Mali, is aimed at further mobilizing the world community to respond to the Darfur crisis, and to determine if outside intervention might be warranted.