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US Concerned Over Fighting in Western Sudan - 2003-12-16

The United States is expressing deep concern over the situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Fighting there, pitting Sudanese government forces and militia allies against local rebel groups, is said to have displaced nearly 700,000 people.

The conflict in Darfur has been overshadowed by efforts to settle Sudan's 20-year civil conflict between the Khartoum government and southern rebels.

But the fighting there has escalated since March and United Nations officials say the humanitarian situation in the remote western region is now one of the most serious in the world.

In a written statement volunteered to reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is "deeply concerned" about the "rapidly deteriorating" humanitarian and security situation in Darfur.

He said the fighting between indigenous opposition groups and the Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militiamen has forced the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to curtail needed aid programs.

He said the United States deplores the parties' lack of engagement to end the hostilities, despite efforts by the U.N. and the government of Chad to facilitate peace talks and a truce.

Mr. Boucher said while access to the area is inhibited by the security situation and the Sudanese government's denial of travel permits, reports indicate that more than 600,000 civilians have been internally displaced by the fighting, 75,000 more have fled into neighboring Chad, and as many as 3,000 unarmed civilians have been killed.

He said the United States calls on all parties to agree to an "observable humanitarian cease-fire" and engage in a substantive dialogue on ending the hostilities in Darfur. He added the United States further calls on the Sudanese government to take "concrete steps" to control the militiamen it has armed, to avoid attacks on civilians, and facilitate international relief efforts.

The appeal on Darfur came as U.S. diplomats continued efforts to assist the Khartoum government and southern rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement reach their stated goal of a framework agreement ending the north-south civil war by year's end.

Remaining issues in those talks, underway near Nairobi with Kenyan mediation, include wealth sharing and the status of three contested areas in the central and southern parts of the country.