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Lawmakers Welcome Bush Appointment of Sudan Envoy

Democratic lawmakers in Congress are reacting to President Bush's appointment of a special envoy for Sudan, calling it a long overdue step that could help avert further bloodshed in Darfur.

The president's announcement follows months of appeals from members of Congress concerned not only about the situation in Darfur, but threats to the comprehensive peace agreement aimed at ending the long North-South war in Sudan.

Andrew Natsios, named as Sudan envoy, is the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has led U.S. humanitarian aid efforts in Darfur.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, the president said the world body must act in the face of any resistance by the Khartoum government to a U.N.-led peacekeeping force.

The government of Sudan has indicated it will allow the current African Union force to remain in the country after September 30, when its mandate is scheduled to expire.

News of the Natsios appointment brought quick reaction from lawmakers who follow the Darfur situation closely.

In a written statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was among those signing a bipartisan letter to President Bush last week.

Calling the Darfur Peace Agreement "on the brink of complete collapse," Pelosi said Natsios must be empowered with, in her words, a full mandate and access to the highest levels of the Bush administration to bring about a just and lasting peace."

On the floor of the House of Representatives, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran had stronger words:

"It is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough," said Jim Moran. "The U.S. must push to keep an international peacekeeping force in Darfur and this force must be stronger and more robust with the authority to use force to protect the innocent civilians who are trapped in this nightmare."

U.S.-led diplomacy, says Moran, must be directed at requiring Sudan President Omar al Bashir to put an end to what he called indiscriminate killing and slaughter of the helpless and week in Darfur.

President Bush's focus on Darfur in his United Nations speech Tuesday came in the wake of criticism that U.S. efforts and interest had lost momentum.

In August, the U.N. approved a resolution for a 20,000 - strong force for Darfur, where about 7,000 African Union troops have served as a protection force for civilians subject to attack by Arab militia thought to be supported from Khartoum, and amid fighting between Darfur rebels and government forces. But the mandate for African Union force in Sudan expires at the end of this month.

In his comments on the House floor, Congressman Moran addressed what he said is the urgency of deploying a robust U.N. force with broad protection powers:

"This has to happen as quickly as possible," he said. "Would we be this complacent if the genocide wasn't in Africa? Would the administration act any differently if claims of ethnic cleansing were in Europe or the Middle East? What in the world does it take for us to stand tall against the evil of genocide wherever it is taking place?"

There was also comment from Senate Republican leader Bill Frist, who said the looming deadline for the AU force, in his words, "has made the need for high-level diplomatic engagement all the more urgent."

Extension of the African Union force mandate is the subject of meetings between African leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.