U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday renewed warnings of international sanctions against Sudan if there is not immediate action to ease the humanitarian situation in the western Darfur region. He described efforts to help refugees there as a race against death.
Mr. Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan paid twin visits to Sudan a week ago and heard promises from Sudanese authorities that they would open Darfur to relief aid and rein in Arab militiamen accused of ethnic cleansing.
But at an African policy seminar in Washington Thursday, Mr. Powell said action to back up those firm commitments from Khartoum has yet to be seen.
He said the Bush administration will withhold further normalization of relations, and will pursue sanctions against Sudan in the United Nations, unless there are immediate steps to alleviate conditions in Darfur.
The secretary of state said that with the approach of the rainy season in Darfur, which will cripple delivery of relief supplies to more than a million refugees, it is absolutely clear that the situation on the ground must change, and quickly.
"There are too many tens upon tens of thousands of human beings who are at risk," he said. "Some of them have already been consigned to death because of the circumstances they're living in now. They will not make it through the end of the year, through the fall. So we need immediate improvement in the situation. And if we don't see that, then the United States and the international community will have to consider further measures."
Mr. Powell cited the draft U.N. Security Council resolution being circulated by the United States calling on the Sudanese government to fulfill its stated pledges to disarm the Janjaweed militias, open Darfur to international relief workers and supplies, and pursue a political solution to the conflict there.
In the absence of early compliance, the measure would impose targeted sanctions against the militiamen but also, as Mr. Powell noted, those who aid and abet them, language that U.S. officials say could mean sanctions against Sudanese government figures as well.
The Darfur conflict, pitting the government-backed militias against local rebels, has in recent months overshadowed successful efforts, heavily supported by the United States, to end Sudan's two-decade-long north-south civil war.
Mr. Powell said the Bush administration wants a better relationship with the Khartoum government of President Omar el-Bashir, which it credits with steps against international terrorism, but that this cannot happen now because of Darfur.
"Normalization cannot take place," he said. "We cannot move in a more positive direction unless this conflict that exists, this terrible situation that exists in Darfur is resolved. We must see peace on all fronts, not just north-south but east-west as well. President Bashir has repeatedly pledged to work for peace, and he did so again when we met. President Bush, the United States Congress, Secretary-General Annan and the international community want more than promises. We want to see dramatic improvements on the ground, right now."
Mr. Powell said only actions, not words, can win what he termed the race against death in Darfur.
He said the Bush administration, which has provided $132 million in Darfur relief thus far, has targeted another $160 million for the coming year and will press other countries to deliver on their pledges of aid.