The United States has welcomed Friday's agreement at the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, setting up a commission to implement a cease-fire in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. The first monitors are expected in the area next week.
The United States has strongly supported efforts to implement the Darfur cease-fire, which was agreed upon last month in Chad. U.S. officials are to join personnel from the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations in making up the cease-fire commission.
The Darfur conflict, pitting local rebels against militiamen backed by the Sudanese government, began last year and has killed thousands of people and driven an estimated one million from their homes.
Welcoming the Addis Ababa agreement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it will be key to getting aid to the refugees. "We think this is a crucial step towards establishing peace in Darfur, because it will enable international monitoring of the cease-fire that was signed April 8," he said. "So we welcome that event. Continuing violence in Darfur is the greatest obstacle to humanitarian assistance reaching the people in need. Establishing the cease-fire commission reaffirms the parties' commitment to the cease-fire. It sets up the mechanism by which reports of violations can be investigated."
Mr. Boucher said the cease-fire commission will begin setting up an office in Khartoum next week and hopes to have its first monitoring personnel in place in Darfur a few days after that.
He noted that the dispatch of international monitors to southern Sudan two years ago had been a catalyst for peace efforts in that country's north-south civil war, which was moved closer to resolution earlier this week with the signing of peace protocols in Naivasha, Kenya.
At a news conference Friday with the foreign press in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell congratulated the Sudanese government and southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army for finishing the Naivasha understandings.
He said in all his recent contacts with Sudanese leaders including President Omar el-Bashir, he has pressed for action on Darfur, where he said the situation for refugees is "dire."
"There are hundreds of thousands of people who are in need, and we need to move faster. We need to get more relief supplies in there. We need to get more relief personnel in there. And right now," said Secretary Powell. "We can worry about how this happened, how it got started, who's responsible, who isn't responsible later. In due course, we can do that kind of analysis. Right now, we need the area opened up as quickly as possible and the cease-fire put in place as quickly as possible, and the militias brought under control as quickly as possible, so that we can help these desperate people in need."
Mr. Powell said the rainy season, which will make roads in western Sudan impassable to relief vehicles, is less than a month away. He acknowledged "some improvement" in recent days in the attitude of Sudanese authorities, who after weeks of delay have given members of a U.S. Agency for International Development disaster-assessment team access to Darfur.