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Darfur Dominates US Congressional Hearing

The situation in Sudan's western Darfur region was among issues dominating a hearing Wednesday with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

Ambassador Bolton has recently been forced to postpone two scheduled appearances before the U.S. Congress due to urgent business at U.N. headquarters in New York.

When he finally made it to a House subcommittee hearing on U.S. budget issues and the United Nations, lawmakers quickly turned the focus to the situation in Darfur.

The National Congress Party in Khartoum, part of Sudan's National Unity Government, has rejected proposals for a U.N. peacekeeping force to augment the efforts of 7,000 African Union (A.U) troops.

The Bush administration is working to remove obstacles standing in the way of transforming the African Union Mission in Sudan into a U.N.-supervised operation.

Ambassador Bolton says Khartoum is delaying the process and thus efforts to restore security and stability in Darfur. "The delay that we are encountering now because of the government of Sudan is postponing the date when we can accomplish the re-hatting," he said.

This week, Sudanese authorities prevented U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, from making a planned visit to Darfur.

Khartoum authorities cited what they called a misunderstanding, saying Egeland was asked to postpone his visit for security reasons.

U.S. lawmakers are also concerned about what many see as the unraveling of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed last year to end decades of civil war between the North and the South.

Republican Congressman Frank Wolf is leading an effort in the House of Representatives to press President Bush to appoint a new special envoy for Sudan. "What can we do? We need to do something very dramatic," he said.

Kristen Silverberg, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, says the Bush administration agrees. "We agree with you that some dramatic effort is needed in order to bring final resolution to this," he said.

Silverberg says Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is leading U.S. government efforts focused on the need to expand the African Union Mission in Sudan, and achieve the transformation to U.N. supervision.

President Bush supports a U.N. force, with support from NATO. Assistant Secretary Silverberg said the need to ensure that African troops in a future U.N. force are properly trained was the subject of a recent discussion between the president and NATO.

Sudan also came up during questioning of Ambassador Bolton about future membership of the new U.N. Human Rights Council.

Lawmakers have long been concerned that Sudan could become a member, if not chairman, of the body, something Ambassador Bolton discussed in this exchange with Congressman Wolf.

WOLF: Could Sudan serve on it, and could Sudan become the chairman?
BOLTON: Under the resolution that was adopted the answer is yes.

The United States voted against the U.N. resolution establishing the new council, saying there were insufficient protections to exclude countries with poor human rights records from membership.

Ambassador Bolton's comments to Congress on Darfur came as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation to impose tough sanctions on Sudanese government and military officials considered responsible for atrocities in Darfur.

The Senate passed a similar measure last year.