Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged the U.N. Security Council to act quickly to stop the genocide and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Rice described conditions in Darfur as a "long nightmare."

Secretary Rice called on the international community Tuesday to seize the opportunity created by the Darfur peace agreement signed in Abuja, Nigeria last week.

Addressing a special ministerial session of the U.N. Security Council, she said 2.5 million displaced Darfurians living in camps in Sudan and Chad pose a grave humanitarian challenge. She reminded the Council that tens of thousands of others have died at the hands of pro-government Arab militias known as Janjaweed.

"The United States has characterized this wanton campaign of violence as genocide. And yesterday, President Bush reaffirmed that judgment. With the signing of the Darfur peace agreement, we now have a real opportunity to help end the long nightmare that has befallen the people of Darfur," she said.

Secretary Rice noted that the United States remains the largest single donor to humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Darfur. She called the crisis a test of the international community's will to provide desperately needed support for people victimized by three years of war. "The plight of the people of Darfur stirs the conscience of all human beings. But conscience alone will not feed starving people and save innocent lives, and bring peace to troubled lands. This is not a challenge for Africa alone, or for America alone. It is a challenge for the entire community of nations, and it is one that should not be taken lightly," she said.

Also addressing the meeting, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged parties to the Darfur conflict that have not signed the Abuja accords to do so. He appealed to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to drop his opposition to allowing visits by U.N. military planners preparing for eventual U.N. control of the existing African Union peacekeeping force.

"The U.N. and the AU will undertake a first-hand assessment of the situation on the ground, and will consult with Sudan's government of national unity, and with other parties, on what is required to implement the peace agreement. Accordingly, I have written to President Bashir to seek support for the assessment. His support for this vital mission is essential," she said.

Diplomats began work Tuesday on the U.S. draft resolution, which would extend U.N. control over the African Union force in Darfur. The eventual goal is to establish a 20,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping mission with enhanced ability to patrol the territory, which is about the size of France.

In the meantime, however, efforts will be made to fortify the beleaguered AU force and speed humanitarian assistance to victims.