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US Lawmakers Move to Pass Law Giving Humanitarian Aid to Darfur - 2004-06-24

The U.S. Senate has approved a package of humanitarian aid for Sudan's western Darfur region.

The $95 million measure, contained in an amendment to a defense spending bill, was passed by voice vote Thursday.

The package includes $70 million dollars for the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) disaster and famine programs in Darfur, and $25 million to assist refugees who fled the troubled region for Chad.

Arab militiamen, with support from the Sudanese government, are blamed for waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

The violence, which began last year, has killed at least 10,000 people and displaced one million others.

Relief groups say tens of thousands could face starvation if humanitarian supplies do not reach the area soon.

On the Senate floor, Senator Mike Dewine, an Ohio Republican, said the Senate measure is a step in the right direction.

"We will be responsible if we do not do something today to prevent these people, these children, these men and women from dying," he said.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is cosponsor of the measure along with Mr. Dewine.

"I hope that the world in viewing this small but important effort will understand that America does care," said Mr. Durbin. "It cares for those who are suffering in the most remote regions of the world."

The House approved the package earlier this week as an amendment to its defense spending bill. Differences in the House and Senate versions of the overall measures will have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.

A Democrat-sponsored measure to double the amount of aid to Darfur was rejected after Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens urged that any additional money for Sudan be included in the foreign aid bill, which will come before the Senate later this year.

The Senate action came as the Bush administration announced that Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to Sudan next week to press Sudanese officials to disarm Arab militiamen and assess humanitarian needs in Darfur.

Lawmakers, who have been urging the administration to do more to respond to the situation in Darfur, welcomed the announcement.

They also reiterated calls for a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize peacekeeping troops to monitor a cease-fire in Darfur and to ensure, by force necessary, that humanitarian aid is not obstructed. Human rights groups have blamed Khartoum for blocking relief aid.

Senator Sam Brownback is a Kansas Republican.

"We need to put pressure on the international body and the Sudanese government, and we can save lives by doing it," he added.

Senator Brownback and Congressman Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, will travel to Darfur Friday.

A joint statement by their offices says the lawmakers will tour villages, visit refugee camps and meet with relief workers.