The State Department says a U.S. investigation of violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has confirmed a "pattern" of ethnic-based attacks by Arab militiamen and Sudanese government forces against black African villagers. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to tell a U.S. Senate panel Thursday if the activity fits the legal definition of genocide.
Officials say Mr. Powell is still working on the testimony he will give Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But they say it has been clear for some time that the attacks committed by "Janjaweed" militiamen in Darfur, frequently backed up by Sudanese government troops and air support, have been racially-based.
A U.S. team led by officials of the State Department's human rights bureau has interviewed more than 1100 Darfur refugees in camps in Chad as part of an unprecedented investigation of whether the violence in the western Sudanese region can be called genocide.
The Washington Post Wednesday quoted what it said was a draft of the final report by the investigators, who the newspaper said had concluded that the Sudanese government had promoted "systematic killings" in Darfur "based on race and ethnic origin."
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher did not take issue with the press report, and said there indeed has been a pattern in which Arab militiamen and government troops have attacked non-Arab villagers.
"What these interviews have revealed is that there is a consistent pattern to the attacks that have taken place, and have continued according to the African Union as late as last week," said Mr. Boucher. "Government aircraft have been used to bomb villages. Trucks with government soldiers and then Janjaweed militias on horseback or camels arrive in the villages, the villages are surrounded. People who flee are attacked, chased down, and the villages are looted and burned."
The document quoted by the Washington Post said the attackers often shouted racial epithets and declared their intention to kill all black inhabitants of Darfur.
Nonetheless, spokesman Boucher refused to say in advance what Mr. Powell's determination will be, saying it will be based on facts and law and that politics will have little if any bearing on it.
Officials have frequently said that a genocide finding would have no immediate impact on actions by the United States, which has been pressing Sudan to end attacks and fully open the region to African Union monitors and international relief workers.
U.S. diplomats began circulating a new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, which among other things threatens sanctions against Sudan's vital oil sector unless the Khartoum government reins in the Janjaweed.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than one million displaced by the Darfur violence, which began early last year when two local rebel groups took up arms against the central government.
Both houses of the U.S. Congress have described the scorched-earth campaign in Darfur by the militias and government troops as genocide.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has also done so, urging the Bush administration to support stronger action, including "humanitarian intervention" led by the United Nations if necessary to stop the killing.