U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region, has made a strong appeal for an end to what she called the "genocide" in Darfur. Ms. Pelosi called for the appointment of a U.S. envoy for Sudan.
Congresswoman Pelosi recently led a congressional delegation to Darfur. In remarks Friday, she described the devastating conditions for tens-of-thousands of displaced people in the region.
"Refugee children struggling in the oppressive heat, without shade, without adequate clothing, sleeping in huts made from USAID food bags stitched together," she said. "At night, their parents would have to walk for miles to get firewood and water, always under the constant fear of attack. But even [amid] this horror, we saw in the bright and playful eyes of the toddlers, we saw hope. That hope diminished in the haunted eyes of the older children."
The fighting in Darfur has been going on for three years, involving rebels, government forces and government-backed militias. The United Nations estimates that 200,000 people have died in the fighting and two million others have been displaced. Congresswoman Pelosi says the international community must do something to end the fighting.
"The humanitarian disaster in Darfur challenges the conscience of the world," she added. "It is the systematic destruction of a people. It is genocide. And, if we allow something like this, then we can just indict all of ourselves for -- well, we lose any moral authority to say 'never again.'"
She said when her congressional delegation met with top officials of Sudan's government, they denied what members of her delegation saw with their own eyes.
Earlier this week, Sudan's ambassador to the United States, Khirir Ahmed, blamed the United States for prolonging the conflict by calling it genocide.
"I think domestic politics in the United States, such as hasty characterization of the conflict as a genocide, has contributed a great deal as an obstacle to resolving this issue," he said.
At the end of her remarks Friday, Ms. Pelosi invited U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek to the podium. Cheek, who won a gold medal at the Olympics in Turin, donated his $25,000 prize money to children in Darfur. On Friday, he said he wanted to draw attention to the tragedy of Darfur, which he said has been taking place with little world attention.
"The situation in Darfur is one of an enormous proportion," he explained. "I doubt seriously if 200,000 or 300,000 Europeans had been killed by their neighbors that it would have gone as unnoticed in the media. "
The international community has not been able to do much to stop the violence. Just last week, the African Union, which has 7,000 troops on the ground in Darfur, decided to put off for six months a decision on whether to allow the United Nations to take over and expand peacekeeping in the region.
Even if the African Union does approve the force, Sudan has steadfastly refused to agree to it.
In her remarks Friday, Congresswoman Pelosi called for the appointment of a special U.S. envoy dedicated to resolving the conflict in Sudan, and said she believes the Bush administration is committed to Darfur.
"This is a top priority," she noted. "We went to see the president, we thought, for 15 minutes -- we were there close to an hour. He's very engaged in this issue, and, again, I commend him for leadership on this issue. I don't think he needs our encouragement. But we want to give him our support. "
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives approved $50 million in additional funding for peacekeeping operations in Darfur.