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Key US Congressional Committee Advances Darfur Legislation


A key committee of the U.S. Congress has approved legislation aimed at stepping up pressure on the government of Sudan because the situation in Darfur. A measure calling for sanctions against the government in Khartoum now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

If enacted, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act would put more pressure on Sudan because of its support for Arab militias killing civilians in Darfur.

Since the situation in Darfur came to light, U.S. lawmakers have advocated stronger action to deal with what the Bush administration has recognized as genocide in Darfur.

Such action would include more energetic U.S. efforts to hold specific members of the government in Khartoum responsible for atrocities.

The Darfur legislation would block assets of and deny visas to individuals responsible for acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity in Sudan. It would also deny entry at U.S. ports to certain cargo ships or oil tankers.

"At the core of it is the amending of the Comprehensive Peace Act in Sudan of 2004 to block the assets and to restrict the travel of any individual whom the president has determined is responsible, whether by commission or omission, for acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity in the Darfur region," said Republican Congressman Chris Smith, who heads the House Africa Subcommittee.

It also contains provisions to step up U.S. assistance to the 7,000-member Africa Union Peacekeeping Mission, support expansion of the force so it can effectively prevent more violence, and encourage NATO to reinforce AU troops.

Congressman Donald Payne is one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the situation in Darfur.

"We must hold accountable those persons who are responsible for genocide at all levels, especially at the highest level in the National Congress Party, to ensure that they are not free to commit these atrocities again," he said.

The House bill also contains what is called sense of the Congress language designating the Janjaweed as a foreign terrorist organization.

Also addressing the Darfur situation Wednesday was Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who had this comment on C-SPAN television.

"Anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000 individuals have died. This is in the last few years. 200,000 to 400,000 people," she said. "Also when you look at the two million who have been displaced, there are two million people not living at home not living in their villages. This is a crisis of enormous proportions. It is an emergency and it requires our immediate attention. I mean immediate attention, not six months from now, but now."

A number of House lawmakers who recently visited Darfur and Khartoum met this week with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss their findings.

Similar Darfur-related legislation pending in the Senate would make U.S. assistance to Sudan, other than that required to implement the North-South peace accord, dependent on a number of conditions.

These include concrete steps by Khartoum to demobilize Janjaweed militias, provide full access by humanitarian groups, permit the voluntary repatriation of refugees and displaced persons, and cooperate with efforts to bring those responsible for genocide to justice.

The latest congressional attention on Darfur coincided with a new report by Human Rights Watch accusing the Khartoum government of failing to undertake key reforms under the North-South Peace agreement to expand democratization and end human rights abuses.