As the U.S. Congress moves toward concluding legislative business for the year, it is about to give final approval to legislation providing about $300 million in aid for refugees and peace efforts and development needs in Sudan, including assistance for the troubled western Darfur region where the United States declared genocide to have occurred.
Approval of the Comprehensive Peace in Sudan Act by the House of Representatives follows earlier action by the Senate.
About $200 million is authorized in the current 2005 fiscal year to support implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, which representatives of the Khartoum government and southern rebels, meeting with U.N. members in Nairobi, committed to sign by the end of the year.
Another $100 million would be released upon final signing of the Sudan peace agreement.
Funds in the Sudan Peace Act are designated for aid not only in Darfur, but also in eastern Chad where tens of thousands of refugees who fled Arab militia attacks sought sanctuary.
Although approval of the legislation came as the parties in Sudan agreed to a peace accord, the Peace in Sudan Act provides for possible sanctions against the Sudanese government, including a prohibition on visas for Sudan's government or military officials or family members, and an assets freeze for those involved in violence in Darfur.
These provisions would remain in effect until the Sudanese government takes steps to prevent further attacks on civilians in Darfur by Arab militia, known as Janjawid, as well as to disarm and demobilize them.
The bill also calls on the government to comply with deployment of African Union (AU) or other security and monitoring forces, and act to ensure safe return of displaced persons.
During House consideration of the bill Friday, lawmakers said it would serve as incentive for the Sudan government and southern rebels to abide by the peace agreement.
Republican Congressman Frank Wolf has traveled frequently to the troubled Darfur region. "It gives hope that if there is an agreement signed, if something does positively come out of Nairobi, Kenya that there will be some lasting push behind it, whereby there can some day be peace for the people in the north, in the area of Khartoum, and in the south, and also the women and children and men in the Darfur region," he said.
Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Africa subcommittee, says the legislation and the peace agreement are merely the first of steps needed to end killing there.
"To have had the United States, to have this Congress and the [Bush] administration, explain that this is genocide, is only a first step," said Mr. Royce. "The question has been, how do we get the international community to take concerted action in order to effectively apply pressure on the government in Khartoum to reverse its actions in supporting the Janjawid?" he asked.
The United States has said it supports efforts to bring to justice government officials and others identified as responsible for atrocities in Darfur, and the legislation calls for establishment of an international commission of inquiry.
Mr. Royce criticizes the United Nations for unwillingness to follow the lead of the United States in labeling killing in Darfur as genocide, and he opposes language in the U.N. Resolution calling for aid, debt, and trade incentives for Sudan's government:
"We should not support such a so-called peace dividend which benefits the government of Sudan, merely for signing a peace agreement. We should not be doing that while killing rages in Darfur," he said.
Aid agencies call the U.N. resolution approved in Nairobi Friday weak, saying without a threat of sanctions it will be a blank check for the Khartoum government to continue supporting violence in Darfur. The resolution does not contain a specific threat of sanctions, nor does it demand the government disarm government-supported Janjawid militias.
Members of Congress intend to continue monitoring the situation in Darfur, saying they hope African Union peacekeepers will be able to prevent further violence which has left tens of thousands of people dead, and forced more than one million from their homes.