U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is still not satisfied with the Sudanese government's response to the humanitarian crisis facing the Darfur region. Mr. Powell and Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the Sudanese government to live up to its commitment to disarm Janjaweed militia fighters immediately.
Following a meeting with the Security Council, Mr. Powell said some improvements have been made in Sudan since he and Mr. Annan visited some three weeks ago. He said there is slightly better access to humanitarian aid now, but that means little if the Sudanese government can't guarantee the security of its people.
"The burden for this, for providing security, rests fully on the Sudanese government," he said. "They have the responsibility. They have been supporting and sustaining some of these Janjaweed elements, this has to end. We have made this clear to the Sudanese leadership. We still know there are bombings that take place, there are helicopter gunships in Darfur region -- I don't know why Darfur region needs helicopter gunships -- and I believe they should be removed in order to help remove the specter of fear that affects the people in Darfur."
Both men also urged the international community to send relief aid to help the estimated one million displaced people in the troubled region.
Earlier on Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he has not ruled out the possibility of sending troops to Sudan to help end a spate of killings and rapes against black Sudanese villagers. Human rights groups charge the government of Sudan for backing the Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, that is committing most of these crimes. U.S. officials say they are not satisfied with the Sudanese government's failure to disarm the fighters.
Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail responded Thursday, saying that recent pressure from the United States and Britain is similar to the pressure placed on Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, and he warned the two countries not to interfere in Sudan's affairs. Mr. Powell responded.
"One person's meddling is another person's attempt to save people who are in desperate trouble," he said. "The United States, the United Kingdom and every other nation of the international community that is concerned about this, as well as the United Nations, believes that we have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands."
Mr. Powell's visit to the United Nations was intended to urge members of the Security Council to adopt a tough stance against Sudan. The Security Council has been considering a draft resolution that could impose a travel ban on Janjaweed fighters, as well as an arms embargo on the Darfur region to prevent other countries from supplying weapons to the militia.
Mr. Annan said such an embargo would be more than symbolic. "This embargo on arms is always helpful," he said. "It also sends a message to suppliers and the transit countries that the international community is against the export of arms into a conflict zone and that it will be monitored and there may be a price to pay. It is intended to dissuade them from sending arms into such a conflict area, in addition to what the secretary of state has said the government of Sudan and others have to do."
The secretary general said he is optimistic that there could be agreement within the Security Council on a new, stronger resolution, and they will actively discuss it in the days ahead.