Britain's foreign aid chief says the international community may have to intervene militarily in Sudan's western Darfur region if the security situation does not improve.
Mr. Benn has recently returned from a visit to Darfur, where more than one million black African residents have fled their homes to escape attacks from government-backed Arab militiamen fighting two local rebel groups.
"We have got one million people displaced within Darfur. We have got about 180,000 people who have fled over the border into Chad," he said. "And in one sense, the most worrying thing is not only the circumstances in which they find themselves, but what about the people whose circumstances we do not know about. And it really is a race against time to save lives."
Mr. Benn says Britain is lending financial and moral support to an African Union mission, which hopes to deploy 120 cease-fire monitors in Darfur by the end of July. He says Britain also will fund a U.N. human rights monitoring team seeking Sudanese government permission to work in Darfur.
However, he says if the fighting continues despite those efforts, the international community may have to consider military intervention.
"If there is continuing insecurity, then the world community is going to have to consider what more can be done to ensure that the flow of people leaving their homes does not continue," he added. "Because if there are continued attacks and people have to flee, then it is adding to the scale of the problem. And secondly, to consider what can be done to provide conditions of security, which, in time, will allow people to go home."
The Sudanese government places most of the blame for the violence in Darfur on the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. The rebel groups began fighting 16 months ago, saying the Arab-controlled government in Khartoum was ignoring the needs of the region's predominately black population.
Mr. Benn says that, while the rebels bear some responsibility for the conflict, Khartoum must rein in the militiamen, called Janjaweed.
"Everybody who has been engaging in conflict and fighting bear responsibility," he noted. "There has been this conflict. The government had to respond. I think it has unleashed some forces, which it is either finding difficult to control or does not necessarily have the will to control, which is why I forcefully made the point that their responsibility does rest with making sure that those who are continuing these attacks cease to do so. And all of the [displaced] women I asked, in answer to the question: 'Who attacked you?' said 'the government.'"
Mr. Benn says the only long-term solution for Darfur will be a political settlement similar to what the Sudanese government has recently negotiated with a southern-based rebel movement to end a war that killed two million people.