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Powell Downplays Talk of Intervention in Sudan's Troubled Darfur Region - 2004-07-27


Secretary of State Colin Powell says he thinks momentum is building behind a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on Sudan unless it cracks down on violence in its western Darfur region. He says outside military intervention in Darfur would be problematic.

Mr. Powell, who's holding talks on Sudan and other regional issues with Egyptian officials, says he thinks support is building behind the U.S.-sponsored draft that would sanction Sudan unless it arrests Arab militia leaders responsible for ethnic-cleansing in Darfur.

But he says others, including British officials and some members of the U.S. Congress who are urging military intervention to stop the so-called "Janjaweed" militias may be underestimating how difficult such an operation might be.

The secretary of state spoke in an airborne news conference en route from Budapest to Cairo for talks with senior Egyptian officials on the situation in neighboring Sudan and other regional issues.

Presented last week, the revised U.S. draft provides for sanctions unless Sudan within 30 days of adoption of the measure, arrests and prosecutes the militia leaders, whose scorched-earth tactics against local rebels in Darfur have killed an estimated 30,000 people and left at least a million black African villagers homeless.

Mr. Powell said in intensive telephone diplomacy for the resolution in recent days, he senses growing support as more people "realize the seriousness" of the Darfur crisis.

But he said suggestions of sending in international troops to deal with the Janjaweed are premature and impractical. "Some nations have gone farther and started to talk about other actions of a military nature. But I think that's premature," he said. "And we should not underestimate what a difficult choice that would be in sovereign country where there is no U.N. resolution for any such action, and where the government, I believe, still has the ability to take action to bring this violence under control."

Mr. Powell said that with a few exceptions, the international community is "coalescing" behind the U.S. strategy of using the threat of sanctions to back up demands on Sudan to fully open Darfur to international relief workers, and to African Union cease-fire monitors backed by their own protection force.

"The basic problem is security, and we are expecting the Sudanese government to use its influence, which we know it has over the over the Janjaweed, to bring them under control," he said. "We don't want to see the establishment of permanent camps, and people cannot go back to their homes and villages, or even worse they can't even go outside the camps for fear of being murdered raped or slaughtered."

Mr. Powell said another element of the U.S. strategy is to restart political talks between the Khartoum government and the Darfur rebels, which broke down earlier this month.

He said there is no shortage of political leverage on Khartoum authorities, including the sanctions threat, but also the knowledge that as long as the Darfur crisis is unresolved they will be unable to reap political benefits that would have accrued from the conclusion of accords ending Sudans' north-south civil war.

The Darfur crisis began in early 2003 when two local rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese government, citing discrimination against the region's black African tribes.

The United States has described the ensuing campaign in Darfur by the government-backed militias as ethnic cleansing. A U.S. Congressional resolution unanimously approved by the House and Senate last week said it amounts to genocide.

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