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Lawmakers, Farrow Urge Further Action by Obama on Darfur

Members of the U.S. Congress are urging President Obama to take further steps to address the situation in Darfur. Lawmakers joined Darfur activist and actress Mia Farrow and others at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Acting on doctor's orders earlier this month, the 64-year-old actress ended a 12-day-long liquids-only hunger strike to protest the expulsion by Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of more than a dozen humanitarian aid agencies from Darfur.

Farrow said the symbolic protest, later taken up by British billionaire Richard Branson, and her appearance with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), underscore the need for new international action, including steps to bring those responsible for atrocities in Darfur to justice. "It is to say to our president, and to the world, we are better than this. We cannot simply stand and watch, the slaughter of innocents, the death of innocents," she said.

Farrow was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. children's agency UNICEF in 2000, and has campaigned on behalf of children in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Nigeria and Haiti.

Several African-American members of Congress announced they will begin limited hunger strikes as part of the Darfur Fast for Life campaign.

The lawmakers also said they are waiting to meet with President Obama, and with Scott Gration, President Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan.

In her remarks, Farrow suggested that after speaking out strongly on Darfur as a presidential candidate, and calling the expulsion of humanitarian agencies unacceptable, President Obama could say and do more:

"The word that stands out from President Obama followed the expulsion of humanitarian agencies, he said it is unacceptable [he used] the word unacceptable. And yet I kept waiting for the second shoe to drop. Surely that was the line that could not be crossed, expulsion of humanitarian [agencies]. And it should be said, many people they don't realize the populations of Darfur are entirely dependent, in the millions upon this humanitarian assistance. So what it has to be is among President Obama's priorities, Darfur has to take its place, and I haven't really been aware that that has happened," she said.

Lawmakers at the news conference sought to soften the sting of that remark, among them Black Caucus Chairwoman, Democrat Barbara Lee.

"The president is very focused on addressing the genocide in Darfur, and we want to make sure that Special Representative Gration [has] the type of tools and assistance that is required to address this humanitarian crisis that is of enormous proportions, one which we have not seen in many of our lifetimes," she said.

Democratic Representative Donald Payne said lawmakers hope to see a strong approach emerge from the president on African issues generally as the State Department and the administration get up to speed on key issues.

"We do expect a very vibrant policy toward Darfur, towards Somalia which has been abandoned, towards all of the countries on the continent that are having problems," he said.

CBC members want to meet with President Obama and with Special Representative Gration, to discuss Darfur, sanctions against Sudan, and obstacles posed by Sudan's president to deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

Lawmakers also want the administration to begin a new push for more cooperation from China regarding the situation in Darfur. Here is Michigan (Democratic) Representative John Conyers: "We must meet with Ambassador Gration, who is going to Beijing tomorrow, today. Secondly, we must meet with the President of the United States as soon as possible, today or tomorrow," he said.

Darfur activists have voiced concern that the Obama administration, in an effort to persuade Khartoum to moderate its policies on Darfur, might consider easing economic sanctions imposed under the Bush administration.

Omer Ismail, a Darfurian refugee and policy activist, has spoken out against doing so and says the world must take a strong stand regarding Sudan's president Bashir. "Bring the government of Sudan to the table, talk to China, because they have leverage more than anybody else. Talk to the Arab world because they are supporting the government in Khartoum against its own people in Darfur. Talk to the African Union and say it is shameful that you are standing by an indicted wear criminal [and] you have to end this today," he said.

This past March, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of President al-Bashir on charges of masterminding mass killings and deportations in Darfur.