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Powell Urges Sudanese to Resolve Darfur Crisis - 2004-06-30

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington expects Sudan to act with urgency to improve the security situation in the western region of Darfur in order to help end the humanitarian crisis. More than a million civilians have been driven from their homes and into refugee camps in a wave of violence blamed on government-backed militias.

Colin Powell said he was impressed by the assistance international aid groups are providing to refugees at camps in Darfur where they fled from ethnic Arab militias called the Janjaweed.

But the secretary of state says the Sudanese authorities must improve security for the humanitarian crisis to come to an end.

"We don't want to keep people well-fed in camps. We want them to go back home. In order for them to go home, security has to be dealt with,? Mr. Powell said. ?We came to a common understanding that the Janjaweed must be controlled. They must be broken. They must be kept from perpetrating acts of violence against the civilian population."

Mr. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan were both in Khartoum in a high-powered display of the international concern about the Darfur crisis.

Mr. Powell said he discussed a time frame for the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed and to allow for faster disbursement of humanitarian relief material and visas to aid workers.

But the Secretary of State gave no specific deadline for conditions to be met. He said he told the Sudanese foreign minister that international intervention in Darfur remains a possibility.

"The international community is going to remain engaged with this problem, seized with this problem, as they say, and that there already has been consideration given to U.N. resolutions,? Mr. Powell said. ?And that will always be a possibility unless the kind of performance we have discussed here today and the kind of commitments that the minister has mentioned to you are actually executed and we see action."

Mr. Powell was speaking after spending about three hours touring Darfur where he was mobbed by tens of thousands of refugees in one camp he visited outside the city of El-Feshir.

Ethnic African insurgents in Darfur launched a campaign against the predominantly Arab government more than a year ago, because they said their region had been neglected.

Human rights groups say, in response, the Janjaweed militias, which are backed by the government, have launched a wave of terror, targeting Darfur's civilian population.

Until recently, the Sudanese government allowed little access to humanitarian workers. Authorities say they will disarm the militia groups in the region.

But Jemera Rone, from the group Human Rights Watch, says the Sudanese government has made promises before.

"Usually they make promises and then they know that the international community will give them a certain time period to see if they're really living up to the promises. And then when they don't live up, then they make another promise," Jemera Rone said. "I think we've got to the end of this, because the humanitarian situation is so desperate we can't sit around while they make good on their fifth or sixth or seventh promise."

More than one million refugees are living in squalid camps in Darfur or over the border in neighboring Chad. The onset of the rainy season, aid workers fear, may worsen what the U.N. already describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis today.