A congressional committee has approved legislation that would provide $450 million in aid over the next three years for Sudan's western Darfur region, and in support of efforts for a comprehensive peace in Sudan. The bill would also impose sanctions against the government in Khartoum.

Under the House bill, $100 million would be spent each year until 2007 to support implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement that, in the words of the legislation, applies to all regions of Sudan, including Darfur.

Another $150 million is designated in the fiscal year beginning October 1, for aid not only in Darfur but also in eastern Chad where tens of thousands of refugees who fled Arab militia attacks sought sanctuary.

The legislation calls for sanctions against the Sudanese government, including a prohibition on visas for senior members of the Sudan government or military, or their family members.

This would remain in effect until the government takes steps to prevent further attacks on civilians in Darfur by Arab militia, known as Janjawid, as well as to disarm and demobilize them.

The bill demands an end to harassment of aid workers and unfettered access by humanitarian workers in Darfur, and calls on the government to comply with deployment of African Union or other security and monitoring forces, as well as action to ensure safe return of displaced persons.

The legislation also includes language requiring the Sudan government to implement the Nairobi Declaration aimed at ending the long-running conflict between Khartoum and southern rebels, including formation of a new coalition government.

Congressman Tom Tancredo, sponsor of the bill, says it reflects congressional concern about Darfur, and Sudan generally. ?It is important, I understand, for us to do what we need to do to look at what is going on in Darfur,? he said. ?I think it is morally important for us to do it. The politics of it are one thing. But the morality of it is another. It is imperative that this Congress shine a light, to the extent we are able to shine it, on the tragedy in Darfur and Sudan as a whole.?

Congressional critics of the Sudanese government have long advocated tougher sanctions, specifically measures to penalize companies operating in Sudan whose investment they see as supporting oppressive government actions.

As approved by the House Africa subcommittee, the Comprehensive Peace in Sudan Act of 2004 contains language prohibiting any company doing business in Sudan from raising capital in the United States, or trading in securities in U.S. capital markets.

However, strong opposition to capital market sanctions on the part of some lawmakers, not to mention the Bush administration, will prevent this language from being considered by the full House of Representatives.

Congressman Donald Payne expressed dismay over this, blaming a lack of will in Congress to overcome political resistance to such a measure.

?I would hope that eventually we can get over this opposition to capital market sanctions,? he said.

Committee Chairman Congressman Ed Royce expressed similar sentiments. ?My hope is that capital market sanctions will be deployed in Sudan if we don't get a peace agreement and if we don't get a resolution and an end to the killing in Darfur,? he added.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed its own version of Sudan legislation containing $300 million in aid, and another $100 million on conclusion of a North-South peace agreement.

However, although there are similarities there are also substantial differences. Among other things, the Senate version does not contain capital markets sanction language, and would not impose other sanctions immediately, as the House bill would.

Although the House could act on its version before Congress adjourns next week, differences would still have to be ironed out in conference, for which there may be no time before adjournment.

Congressional sources say final congressional action on Sudan legislation might have to wait until a predicted lame duck session of Congress that would follow the November 2 presidential election.