The three U.S. presidential candidates - Republican John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - have made an unusual joint statement condemning the Sudanese government on the Darfur issue. They warned Khartoum against assuming that the next U.S. administration will be any less vigilant on Darfur than the current one. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the three presidential contenders have told the Sudanese government that it is chiefly responsible for continuing violence in Darfur, and that it would be making a "huge mistake" if it thinks it can benefit by "running out the clock" on the Bush administration.

A joint statement by the three candidates was published Wednesday by the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 180 religious, human rights and advocacy groups.

They said while the campaign focus will be on the differences among them, they are taking the uncommon step of making the joint statement on Darfur, the scene they said of more than five years of genocide.

The candidates accused the Sudanese government and its proxies of continuing atrocities against Darfur civilians and condemned what they said were Sudan's repeated attacks on its own people and multiple barriers it has put up to the deployment of a hybrid United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force.

The statement said that even as the candidates continue to campaign, they will keep a close watch on Sudan and press for steps to protect its citizenry.

They said if peace and security are not in place when one of them is inaugurated as president next January, they pledge that the next administration will pursue those goals with "unstinting resolve."

The action by the candidates drew a welcome response from the Bush administration. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said all the Sudanese parties need to know that peace in Darfur is an issue that transcends U.S. partisan politics.

"I do think that it would be a mistake for any of the participants in this conflict to think that the interest or concern about Darfur or about Sudan in general is going to somehow lessen or go away with a change in American administration," he said. "I think this is an issue that has had broad bipartisan expressions of concern and broad bipartisan support for trying to relieve the suffering of the people in Darfur."

The three presidential candidates also made separate videotaped statements on the Save Darfur Coalition's website.

Senator Clinton said standing silent while Darfur "continues to fester" is not only irresponsible but morally wrong, and said that every day the United States fails to act is "a betrayal of our common values."

Senator McCain said U.S. values are part of its security and must be maintained, and that in the case of Darfur as he put it, "we have waited long enough and it is time to get tough."

Senator Obama, for his part, said genocide - whether in Rwanda, Bosnia, or in Darfur - is a stain on everyone's soul. He said the United States has a moral obligation to combat it and that it cannot say never again, and let it happen again.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the violence in Darfur genocide in 2004 after a detailed State Department study, including interviews of victims of violence and displaced persons in Sudan and Chad.

U.N. officials estimate that more than 200,000 people have died in the conflict and that more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.