Two U.S. lawmakers just returned from Sudan say the situation in the western Darfur region remains intolerable, and are urging the government in Khartoum to take further actions to alleviate suffering there.
Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe says each day that goes by increases the risk for the estimated 1.2 million internally-displaced people in Darfur.
Without an expanded African peacekeeping force, he says, instability and insecurity will force even more out of their homes, with the potential of creating a permanent refugee population.
"Without security, IDPs [Internally Displaced People] will not feel safe enough to return home," said Congressman Kolbe. "Without security, the internally displaced persons will not be able to return to their fields to plant in time for next year's harvest. Without security, the international community will find itself supporting these displaced persons for months, perhaps even years to come. Most importantly, without security the people of Darfur will live in continuous fear of their lives."
Congressman Kolbe was instrumental in getting Congress to approve $95 million in additional funds to address the situation in Darfur, part of $260 million committed by the United States so far.
He and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. were told by Sudanese government officials, including the country's vice president, that Khartoum intends to comply with the most recent United Nations resolution on Darfur.
However, both lawmakers underscore what they say is the biggest need at present, an expanded presence by African Union troops.
"It is a necessary prerequisite for Darfurians to voluntarily return home," said Mr. Jackson. "This can initially be accomplished by a broadened African Union presence. I support at least 4,000 African Union troops to do the job, with a broadened mandate from the U.N. that not only provides security for the monitors, but also provides security in the camps."
Mr. Jackson calls the presence of Sudanese government police forces in refugee camps unacceptable, adding that displaced people want only international troops in charge of security in areas outside camps.
The U.S. government has formally described the violence in Darfur, involving government-supported Arab militia attacks on non-Muslim Africans, as genocide.
At Wednesday's news conference, Congressman Jackson spoke to the issue of genocide.
"Did we conclude, after being on the ground and talking with the Darfurian people themselves that genocide is being committed against them," he said. "Yes, and that is why in our judgment for the first time ever, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide should invoke against the government of Sudan and be invoked immediately. We do not need to repeat what happened during World War II, or what happened as recently as Rwanda. We did promise, never again."
In his remarks Wednesday, Congressman Kolbe said an expanded international force for Darfur would likely involve a need for additional funds, something he says Congress should consider.
He says there are indications assistance to Darfur is now flowing better, and the government of Sudan should be commended for cooperation it has given in this regard.