An African Union delegation headed to Sudan's war-torn Darfur region Thursday to assess the humanitarian situation there. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is planning to visit Darfur and the Sudanese capital Friday.

The African Union's Peace and Security Commissioner, Sa'id Djinnit, tells VOA the delegation he is leading wants to know how the pan-African organization can best help those who are suffering in the volatile region.

"We just want to be helpful, to have first-hand information and a frank exchange of views with humanitarian agencies about the situation and the problems faced on the ground, to see what the AU could do more to alleviate the suffering of the people, to improve the security situation," he said.

The delegation traveled to Darfur Thursday for a three-day tour that includes consultations in displaced persons camps and at the El Fasher headquarters of the African Union Mission in Sudan.

The group will conclude its trip in the capital, Khartoum, where members will meet with Sudanese government officials.

Robert Zoellick
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick Thursday was in Rwanda attending the first day of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Summit's two-day annual meeting.

From there, Mr. Zoellick plans to go to Darfur, where he is scheduled to visit an internally displaced persons' camp and meet with African Union troops. He will then go to the capital Khartoum.

The deputy secretary of state's trip is a follow-up to a meeting in Ethiopia at the end of May at which donors pledged some $200 million for an expanded African Union peace support mission in Darfur.

The African Union goal is to triple the size of its current troop contingent in Darfur to more than 7,700 troops.

This is the second time in recent months that Mr. Zoellick was in the country. The deputy secretary of state visited Darfur, Khartoum and the southern Sudanese town of Rumbek April 14 and 15.

The United States has said it is committed to working with the African Union and others to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, promote a political reconciliation there, and implement the recently signed north-south peace deal.