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US Official: Darfur Remains Dangerous

A key U.S. official says Sudan's Darfur region remains dangerous, even though large-scale violence has subsided.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick Wednesday briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the current situation in Darfur.

"In general in Darfur, what you are seeing is [that] the large scale organized violence has substantially subsided," said Mr. Zoellick. "But the situation remains very fragile and dangerous."

Mr. Zoellick said that while Sudanese government forces have withdrawn, their government-backed Arab militias, known as the "janjaweed," have not disbanded and are still contributing to the violence.

But he said the rebels also are to blame, and suggested they were behind the latest flare-up in violence as they sought to influence African Union-sponsored peace talks in Nigeria.

"Our best estimate about what has gone on is some of the rebel leaders were positioning themselves for the negotiations in Abuja, because there are splits among the rebel groups," he added. "Frankly, one of the important messages I want to send today and I hope you send is that no one should be engaging in violence. If people think this is going to improve their negotiating position, it is going to undermine their position with us."

Mr. Zoellick's special envoy, Roger Winter, has been meeting with representatives from the government and the rebel side in Sudan in recent days to try to halt the violence.

Mr. Zoellick suggested that controlling the violence in Darfur would have an impact on the successful implementation of a peace accord between the government and southern rebels reached last January and aimed at ending the country's decades-long civil war:

"If we cannot maintain peace and security in Darfur, and improve the situation, move to a peace process, the ability for us to support this new hopeful government is going to be severely undermined," he explained.

The State Department official appealed to other countries to contribute aid to Sudan, noting that the United States has offered one billion dollars to support peace and humanitarian relief to Sudan, and 68 percent of the food aid to Darfur.