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US Officials Warn Darfur Situation Could Deteriorate Further - 2004-09-30

Senior Bush administration officials warned Wednesday that the already dire situation in Sudan's western Darfur region could get worse without a larger presence by African Union monitors.

United Nations officials say some 50,000 people have died and a million and a half have been left homeless by the conflict in Darfur, which began last year when the Khartoum government sent Arab militiamen to put down a revolt by local rebel groups.

But senior Bush administration officials are warning that the crisis may not have peaked yet, and that the looming prospect of tribal warfare, a regional drought and locust plague may make humanitarian conditions even worse.

At a news conference the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development Andrew Natsios, just back from a visit to Sudan including Darfur, said pent-up rage among the region's displaced people had reached hitherto-unseen levels, and could flare into ethnic and tribal violence extending beyond Darfur to major cities like Khartoum and Omdurman.

With heavy U.S. support, the U.N. Security Council in mid-September approved a resolution calling on the Khartoum government to rein-in the Arab militias known as the Janjaweed and open the region to access by international relief workers and African Union truce monitors.

Mr. Natsios, who met in Khartoum with senior officials including First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, said the response to the resolution remains inadequate and that the United States is putting heavy pressure on Sudan to, among other things, allow a major increase in the African Union observer presence:

"They think we are going after them, and we are. The question of course is not whether we go after them, but how we resolve the crisis. We have 1.5 million people in those camps," he said. "We have a pending locust plague, a potential drought, and a war still going on. Our first priority right now is to end the conflict, get the people back to their villages before this turns into a much worse tragedy that it is now."

Mr. Natsios called on Sudanese authorities to remove government agents who he said have been using brutal methods to stifle dissent in refugee camps, and said enough A.U. monitors should be deployed to provide a full time presence in the camps and in Darfur's larger towns.

Appearing with the aid agency chief, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Michael Rannenberger said Khartoum leaders have not severed ties with Janaweed leaders as demanded by the international community, as seen in the continued high-profile role in Khartoum by militia figure Sheikh Musa Hilal.

"From the outset, what we've told the Sudanese government is that they need to take control of the situation, that there is clearly active government support for what the Janjaweed is doing," he said. "So the government is linked to this. I think the fact that you see Musa Hilal, who is one of the Janjaweed leaders make no mistake about it, running around Khartoum giving interviews to the international press, flying on government helicopters, indicates the degree of collaboration there. And what we have said is that these Janjaweed leaders need to be held accountable."

Musa Hilal is among six Janjaweed leaders singled out by the United States for travel and economic sanctions earlier this year.

In an interview with the French news agency, AFP, Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was disappointed that other nations have not followed the United States' lead in terming the Janjaweed-led campaign in Darfur as genocide.

Such action he said, would have ratcheted-up the pressure on the Khartoum government to curb the violence.

Mr. Powell's genocide determination September 9 followed U.S. interviews of more than one thousand Darfur refugees in Chad. The U.S. Congress also declared the Darfur violence genocide in a joint resolution in July.