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Pentagon Downplays Prospects for US Military Intervention in Sudan - 2004-06-24

The Pentagon's chief spokesman is downplaying the prospects for U.S. military intervention in the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita acknowledges there is what he terms "a serious humanitarian situation" in the Darfur region.

But speaking to reporters at the Defense Department, Mr. Di Rita sidestepped a question Thursday about whether the Pentagon opposes direct American military intervention in Sudan just as declassified documents show it initially opposed action in Rwanda during the genocide there 10 years ago.

Mr. Di Rita made clear the Bush administration favors action in Sudan by other countries.

"That would be obviously the first best choice for something like that: get other countries that have capability to do that," he said. "It's been done before and we believe that's probably the best thing that we as a government can do is encourage [other] countries to be involved."

Mr. Di Rita's comments came the day after leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus urged the United States to lead an immediate intervention to stop the killing of black African villagers by Sudanese government backed Arab militia.

His comments also came the day after other defense officials disclosed a small team of U.S. military non-combat specialists had been sent to Chad. One official told VOA the team was sent, as he put it, "to provide a capacity to act at some future point."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to Sudan next week to press the government in Khartoum to end the crisis in Darfur.

More than a year of violence in the region has left tens of thousands of black civilians dead and one million displaced, including tens of thousands who have fled into neighboring Chad. Relief officials say tens of thousands of refugees face starvation.