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Powell Tells Egypt Time Running Out for Darfur Refugees - 2004-07-28

Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday urged Egyptian support for an American draft of a U.N. resolution that would sanction Sudan's government unless it curbs violence in the western Darfur region. Egypt opposes sanctions and says leaders of neighboring Sudan should get more time to fulfill Darfur commitments.

Mr. Powell's diplomatic campaign for the U.N. resolution met resistance in Egypt, where officials are wary about sanctions against Sudan and the prospect of international intervention on behalf of Darfur refugees.

The secretary himself has said talk of intervention is premature and problematic. But he is not retreating on the need for a sanctions threat, to prompt authorities in Khartoum to open Darfur to aid workers and rein in Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing.

In a talk with reporters with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, ending a day of talks in Cairo, Mr. Powell said the plight of African refugees in Darfur is desperate and that the wait for Sudanese action cannot be open-ended.

"We should give the Sudanese government time to respond, but these people don't have that much time, before disease and famine takes tens of thousands of lives,? Mr. Powell said. ?And so the international community has come together to put pressure on the Sudanese to allow full access to the area for humanitarian workers and also for the Sudanese government to do everything in its power to stop the Janjaweed militia and to bring security and stability to the region, so that people can return to their homes and people can be taken care of until they can return to their homes."

The U.S. draft resolution, newly revised this week, would give the Khartoum government 30 days to disarm the militias or face sanctions including an arms embargo against governments, individuals or groups that support the Janjaweed.

Egypt and other Arab states have opposed sanctions, along with the Security Council members, Russia, Pakistan and China.

In his comments with Mr. Powell, Foreign Minister Gheit said Sudan should get more time to fulfill promises to curb the militias, though he also made clear Egypt does not want to see a repeat of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He was heard through an interpreter.

"Time here is a crucial element in terms of giving the time to the Sudanese government in order to allow its own commitments,? he said. ?Generally speaking there is a great deal of interest and persuasion on the part of the international community. They are concerned about what's happening, because they fear that what happened to other African countries in terms of humanitarian issues and problems could repeat itself and the international community does not want to see this happen."

The secretary also discussed Darfur with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the country's new Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and a senior U.S. official said they agreed to convey to the Khartoum government the degree of international concern over Darfur.

At the news conference, Mr. Powell dismissed an Egyptian questioner's suggestion that the United States was exaggerating the Darfur crisis to insinuate itself into the region.

Darfur, he said is not an American invention, and said the magnitude of suffering is evident to everyone who has visited the area.

He also said Bush administration policy has been to reduce, not add to, sanctions against the Khartoum government and to promote reconciliation after Sudan's two-decade-long north-south civil war.

The Darfur conflict erupted last year, pitting two local rebel groups against the militiamen who are armed and supported by Sudanese authorities. As many as 30 thousand people have been killed and more than a million displaced by scorched-earth tactics by the Janjaweed.