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Too Early to Consider Sending Troops to Sudan, says Blair - 2004-07-22


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is playing down a report that he is making contingency plans to send British troops to Sudan to deal with that country's ethnic conflict. The prime minister discussed the Sudan crisis at his monthly news conference.

Mr. Blair was asked about a report in the Guardian newspaper that planning has begun for a possible British military intervention in Sudan, where more than one million people face famine amid a civil war. The prime minister says it is too early to consider such an option.

"We are not at that stage," he said. "The situation in Sudan is very serious indeed. What we need to do in the short term is get the government of Sudan to take the measures necessary to control these militias, and make sure that the aid and assistance gets through. Now, we rule nothing out, but we are not at this stage, yet. The headlines on this are somewhat premature."

He was asked if the world has a moral duty to make sure a Rwanda-style genocide is not repeated in Sudan's western Darfur region. An Arab militia backed by the Sudanese military has been accused of atrocities against the predominately black population in Darfur.

"I believe we have a moral responsibility to deal with this, and to deal with it by any means that we can," he said. "But I think we need to work very carefully with the African Union, because after all, they are the regional political body and there's no point in doing things, unless you've got very clear support in the region. We have a strategy at the moment, but as I say, this is something we are absolutely focused upon. And what is happening there at the moment is unacceptable, and of course we have got a moral responsibility to do what we can."

Shortly before Mr. Blair's news conference, the Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, accused Britain and the United States are pressuring Sudan the same way they did Iraq before last year's invasion.

Mr. Ismail told reporters in Paris it would be counter-productive for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Sudan, unless it moves to crack down on the Arab militias. The United States is pushing for such a resolution.