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Powell Says Decision on Darfur Genocide Issue Coming Soon - 2004-08-05

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration will make a decision "in the next couple of weeks" as to whether the situation in Sudan's western Darfur region meets the legal definition of genocide. But he told minority journalists in Washington Thursday the decision will not alter the U.S. approach to the crisis.

U.S. officials have been interviewing Darfur refugees in camps in the region and in neighboring Chad as part of the effort to decide whether the depredations of Arab "Janjaweed" militiamen fit the legal definition of genocide.

In an appearance Thursday at the Journalists of Color Convention in Washington, Secretary Powell said he expects to be able to make a formal determination "in the next couple of weeks" on the genocide issue.

However, he cautioned the audience of minority journalists that the decision will have no practical effect on the Bush administration, which he said is already using all the political leverage it has to get the Sudanese government to rein in the militiamen and open Darfur to relief workers and supplies.

"Declaring it a genocide does not require or cause any action that we are not now taking, or could not take right now without a declaration of genocide," he explained. "And so we've got an open mind on it and we'll look at the facts as the facts come in. But we're working hard to get the food in, and supplies in, and to see what peacekeepers might be appropriate."

At least 30,000 people have been killed and more than a million black African villagers have been driven from their homes by the militias, who have been armed and supported by the Khartoum government in a scorched-earth campaign against local rebels.

Both houses of the U.S. Congress late last month approved a resolution declaring events in Darfur genocide, and there have been calls from Congress and elsewhere for military intervention there.

But Mr. Powell cautioned that dispatching troops to Darfur, a region the size of France, without the permission of the Sudanese government or United Nations authorization would be highly problematic. He said peace efforts led by the African Union still hold out hope of success.

"There's no reason that the African Union cannot play a leadership role in this, both with monitors who they've sent in, protection forces for the monitors on the way in, and now consideration being given now to African Union monitoring forces and peacekeeping forces," he added. "That's the best way to go forward with this. And the strong resolution we got from the U.N. last week seems to have made it clearer to the Sudanese government that they have to take action now."

Last Friday's U.N. Security Council resolution gave Sudan 30 days to crack down on the militias and provide greater humanitarian access to Darfur.

Mr. Powell said the Sudanese government will be judged by its actions when the Security Council reconvenes on the issue late this month.

He also said the international community needs to "calibrate" the degree of pressure applied on the Sudanese government to make sure that efforts are not counter-productive.