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Powell To Visit Darfur - 2004-06-24

In a surprise move, Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Sudan next week as part of a previously announced foreign trip to press authorities in Khartoum to disarm Arab militiamen blamed for ethnic-cleansing in the western Darfur region. Mr. Powell will go to Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation and meet relief workers.

The Powell visit, which will be the first by a U.S. Secretary of State to Sudan since 1978, was approved by President Bush Thursday morning.

According to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, Mr. Powell will press Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir and other officials to fulfill a promise made last week to disarm government-backed militiamen, whose scorched-earth tactics against Darfur rebels have displaced at least a million people

"We hope they see this as an opportunity to show that they're willing to take some real action against the militias, and to really open up humanitarian access for the region."

Officials said they expect "frank and blunt" talks in Khartoum about the Darfur situation. The United States says "ethnic-cleansing" has occurred in Darfur and it is studying whether the situation fits the legal definition of genocide.