Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Calling the situation in Sudan's western Dafur region "genocide," U.S. Senator Bill Frist has urged the international community not to miss this opportunity to prevent another holocaust.
"What is occurring in Sudan is leading to regional instability," the Tennessee Republican t old journalists here. "It needs urgent international attention."
On Tuesday, the United Nations accused the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum of carrying out fresh assaults in Darfur -- specifically, helicopter gunship bombings" -- and said the government-sponsored militia known as the Janjaweed had also carried out new attacks in South Darfur, causing more displacement of civilians.
Frist did not rule out a military intervention, although he said efforts should first focus on trying to find a political solution to the crisis.
The senator was speaking in Nairobi after visiting Sudan and neighboring Chad, where he conducted interviews with refugees from the war-torn region.
He said the U.S. would increase pressure on Sudan to take effective action in Darfur, where the Janjaweed militia has been accused of atrocities against the black Muslim population since early last year.
"When I return to Washington, I will inform my colleagues that we must continue to speak loudly to bring international attention to this horrendous tragedy that is underway," Frist declared.
The U.N. estimates that there are currently some 1.2 million displaced people in the Darfur region and about two million people urgently in need of food. Some 50,000 more have died from armed attacks, malnutrition and diseases since a conflict erupted between the government and two Darfurian rebel groups.
Frist said that Khartoum could end the conflict in Dafur at any time but lacked the political will to do so.
If the conflict did not end within the 30 days stipulated by a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, he said, a joint protective force should be deployed immediately.
He proposed that such a force should comprise Sudanese government soldiers, troops from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- the main, non-Muslim rebel group in the south of the country which has been negotiating a peace agreement with Khartoum -- and from the African Union (AU).
On Monday, Sudan rejected an AU proposal to send some 2,000 peacekeepers, saying that would amount to "colonialism." Khartoum agreed that a 300-strong AU force already in Dafur could monitor a ceasefire signed in April between the government and the rebels.
Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Ismail, said security in Darfur "is the responsibility of Sudan alone."
Frist expressed frustration about the situation, saying each day that passes without the international community taking action only prolongs the ongoing tragedy.
Representatives of Khartoum and the two rebel groups in Darfur are scheduled to hold AU-brokered peace talks on August 23.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said progress achieved in those talks would be a factor when the U.N. determines whether or not to impose sanctions.
According to Frist, threats of U.N. sanctions were insufficient, since "Sudan can simply operate without the effect of those sanctions being felt."
The Arab League announced Sunday that it opposed sanctions against Sudan or any "forced foreign military intervention in the area."
Roger Winter of the U.S. Agency for International Development said Khartoum had yet to eliminate all the barriers slowing the inflow of humanitarian assistance.
Those barriers included delays in issuing visas, denial of work permits and delays in customs clearing.
Officials were also insisting on testing pharmaceutical products in Khartoum laboratories before they could be sent to the conflict region. Khartoum also required that only Sudanese trucks be used to transport relief supplies, and Winter said stocks of Sudanese trucks were inadequate.
The U.S is currently providing more than 80 percent of the humanitarian needs in Dafur, he said.
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