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US Congress Continues Focus on Darfur

Key members of the U.S. Congress have been working to focus attention on the situation in the Darfur. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the latest activity follows steps by President Bush to impose stronger financial sanctions on Sudan.

Congress has held several hearings on Darfur, focusing on U.S. efforts to increase pressure on the Sudanese government. China, a key economic partner of Sudan, is also coming under pressure to do more to influence the Khartoum government to halt the violence in Darfur.

One hundred eight members of the House, along with more than 90 Senate lawmakers sent a letter to China's President Hu Jintao signaling their intention to link Beijing's hosting of the summer Olympics next year with its support for Sudan.

Last week, two key Senate lawmakers used statements to drive home their points about the need for stronger U.S. and international efforts on Darfur.

Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin announced bipartisan legislation called the Sudan Disclosure and Enforcement Act, aimed at enhancing the U.S. government's ability to impose penalties on violators of U.S. sanctions against Sudan.

While applauding President Bush for his recent decision to tighten sanctions, Durbin says more needs to be done. "It creates real consequences for those who support the Sudanese regime. And perhaps most importantly, it requires the administration and Congress to meet in 90 days to reassess the steps that need to be taken to help end the crisis [in Darfur]," he said.

The Senate legislation would sharply increase civil and criminal penalties for sanctions violators, and require a report from the president on the effectiveness of sanctions.

It would also increase resources to pursue violators and track Sudanese economic activity, while taking steps to make it easier for Americans to divest from companies invested in Sudan.

Also on the Senate floor was Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who voiced frustration after a visit to Darfur: "Look what the world community has done to be so slow in response to this humanitarian crisis, this genocide, this slaughter," he said.

Sudan divestment legislation is also moving through the House of Representatives.

In testimony to a House subcommittee, activists said more pressure must be brought to bear on China to use its influence with Khartoum to end violence.

Former ambassador Lawrence Rossin, now senior international coordinator for the Save Darfur Coalition, says while Beijing may have taken some steps and engaged in quiet diplomacy, its efforts have fallen unacceptably short.

"Whatever quiet influence China may be bringing to be bear is at best ambiguous, undermined by simultaneous debt right-offs, new presidential palaces, growing military cooperation and assertions that everything is honky dory out there in Darfur. No wonder [Sudan's President Omar] al-Bashir told a Middle Eastern wire service after [China's president] Hu [Jintao] left Sudan, that he had not felt like he was under any pressure," he said.

As China prepares to host the 2008 Olympics, it has come under growing pressure by groups who want to use Beijing's desire for success with the games as leverage.

Olympic medalists Joey Cheek of the United States, and Tegla Loroupe of Kenya testified at the House hearing:

CHEEK: "By choosing to host an Olympics, China in particular looks to use this as its coronation on the world stage. And you do not get to host the Olympics, you do not get to host this great event with all of the glow and all of the good feelings that come along with it without accepting the responsibility of what you are proclaiming."

LOROUPE: "It is time to tell the people in China during the Olympics that people are going to their country for one reason, peace and peace is our dream. Sports is our dream for everybody. They should see that their businesses they build in Sudan should bring peace, but not pain."

John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group repeated his calls for a combination of aggressive multi-lateral economic pressure, and visible military preparations to support African Union peacekeeping and aid civilians.

In this exchange with Republican Congressman Chris Shays, he provided a picture of the critical humanitarian crisis in Darfur:

PRENDERGAST: "We have now over one million people in Darfur that are outside of the reach of humanitarian assistance."

SHAYS: "You mean outside of the camps?"

PRENDERGAST: "Many of them are in camps but because of targeted violence and because of bureaucratic restrictions imposed by the government of Sudan, both of these factors, people largely in camps, 98 percent of those are in camps, are not being reached by our humanitarian aid infrastructure. One-million people."

Lawrence Rossin says U.S. diplomacy has been inconsistent and weak. "That lack of U.S. Coherence has been reflected internationally. Part-time diplomacy of this sort will not change Khartoum's cold calculations. The parade of uncoordinated envoys to Khartoum really has to end now. The last four years are a graveyard of failed diplomacy as much as [it is] of 400,000 Darfurians," he said.

Prendergast urges President Bush to work with France, where newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy has made Darfur a key foreign policy priority.

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, pressed Sudan's President al-Bashir in talks in Khartoum this week to clear the way for deployment of a full 23,000 member African Union - U.N. Force for Darfur.