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US Lawmakers Call for Urgent Action on Darfur

Members of Congress are calling on the Bush administration to step up efforts to press the Sudanese government to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Lawmakers are calling for urgent action on Darfur amid signs that violence is on the increase.

"Aerial bombings are reported to be resumed in the western part of Sudan by the government," said Republican Senator Sam Brownback. "We are getting reports of malaria, dysentery and cholera in the refugee camps starting to spread. This is a horrible situation that is getting worse."

Lawmakers praised President Bush's decision, announced this week, to appoint a U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, urged Natsios to urgently address the situation.

"We need to get the President's new special envoy engaged immediately," he said. "Mr. Natsios must be empowered to negotiate and work with the Sudanese throughout the region and with the international community to make way for a U.N. peacekeeping force and to set conditions for a lasting peace."

The U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution calling for the deployment of up to 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur to replace a smaller African Union force, which critics say is largely ineffective. But the Sudanese government has opposed the deployment of the proposed U.N. mission.

Lawmakers are urging the Bush administration to work with allies who have influence with the Sudanese government, particularly China, Egypt and Libya, to press Khartoum to accept the U.N. force.

Senator Barak Obama, an Illinois Democrat, who recently returned from a visit to the region, including a stop at a Sudanese refugee camp in Chad, warned of dire consequences if the situation is not addressed.

"Over the long term, we could end up having a huge destabilizing situation all across the region, which by the way is not only a humanitarian concern, but is a long-term national security concern for the United States," he explained. "In these ungoverned spaces, you have huge numbers of refugees, borders that are not being controlled, violence of this sort. This is the kind of environment where terrorism breeds, and this has to be part and parcel of our national security strategy."

In the meantime, lawmakers are calling for steps to bolster the African Union force, which has been extended until the end of the year. Senators noted that a defense bill passed by the Senate earlier this month included $20 million to help train and assist the AU mission.

Senators are also optimistic that differences in House and Senate-passed versions of the Sudan Peace and Accountability Act can be resolved soon so that a compromise bill can be sent to President Bush for his signature. The measure would freeze the assets of and impose travel bans on individuals determined by the president to be complicit in atrocities in Darfur.

In a related matter, House Democrats introduced legislation that would bar international companies that operate in Sudan and directly or indirectly support genocide in Darfur from receiving U.S. contracts.