The highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist, says he has no doubt that the campaign of violence by pro-government Arab militiamen against black civilians in western Sudan is genocide. The view of Senator Frist and the U.S. Congress is at odds with the European Union's official assessment of the crisis in Darfur.
At a news conference in Nairobi Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters he firmly believes that a government-orchestrated genocide is taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The senator says his assessment is based on interviews he conducted with refugees at a camp he visited last week in neighboring Chad and on conversations he has had with Chadian leaders and representatives of aid groups and humanitarian organizations.
"I disagree with the statement by the European Union yesterday in saying this is not genocide," he said. "As a physician and as someone who has been on the ground talking to the people, doing the interviews, there has been a clear-cut goal at extermination of a group of people with the intent that is consistent with the international interpretation of genocide."
On Monday, a fact-finding mission for the European Union in Darfur said that although mass killings were taking place in the region, it did not find any evidence of genocide. The conclusion contradicts the view of the U.S. Congress, which declared last month that the atrocities being committed in Darfur are genocide. The Bush administration has not yet taken an official stance.
Without a clear international consensus on the issue, Senator Frist acknowledges that a large-scale Western intervention in Darfur is not likely to happen. But he urged the international community not to turn its back on a crisis, which has been called the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
The United Nations says as many as 50,000 people have died in the conflict. It warns the death toll from war, hunger, and disease among more than a million displaced refugees could rise significantly if the violence in Darfur continues. Senator Frist says he blames the Sudanese government for starting the crisis a year and a half ago when it began bombing villages in Darfur and arming local Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, to rape, rob and kill blacks.
The Senate Majority Leader says he does not agree with Arab League members, who have urged the United Nations Security Council to give Khartoum more time to disarm the Janjaweed than the 30 days it set out in a resolution passed 10 days ago. The resolution threatens unspecified sanctions against Sudan if it does not comply.
"I don't think it takes 60 or even 30 days," he said. "I believe if the government wished to, wanted to and didn't just commit verbally but acted, this crisis could be ended immediately."
Khartoum rejects charges that it controls the activities of the Janjaweed and blames two rebel groups in Darfur for starting the conflict. The government also strongly disputes U.N. estimates of civilian deaths in the region.
In another development, the human rights group Amnesty International has issued a report saying Sudan detained scores of people who spoke with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other foreign leaders during recent visits to Darfur. Amnesty says Khartoum must stop arresting people for expressing opinions.
Meanwhile, the African Union says it has delayed a decision to deploy troops to Darfur because members are still debating whether to transform a 300-strong protection team into a 2,000-member peacekeeping force.
Leaders in Khartoum have spoken out strongly against deploying any foreign troops in Darfur which are not part of a ceasefire monitoring team.