- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will travel next week to Sudan’s strife-torn region of Darfur, where U.S. officials said yesterday they see “indicators of genocide” in the past 16 months of violence.

Mr. Powell’s rare visit to a country on Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism will mark the first trip to Sudan by a U.S. secretary of state since Cyrus Vance stopped there in 1978.

“The secretary’s visit to Sudan is intended to continue to call attention to the dire humanitarian situation in Darfur, to do whatever we can to stop the violence there and to make sure that the needy people of that region are receiving whatever supplies we can get to them,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

The violence has left at least 10,000 dead and more than 1 million displaced since it erupted in February 2003.

The Bush administration has described the actions of Arab militias backed by the central government in Khartoum against black Africans as “ethnic cleansing.”

But Pierre Prosper, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes, told the House International Relations Committee yesterday the administration sees “indicators of genocide and there is evidence that points in that direction.”

“We’ve seen attacks and atrocities against African civilians by the government-supported militias, and situations where villages with Africans in them were totally destroyed and a village next door that was Arab was untouched by any violence,” Mr. Boucher said.

He and other officials said satellite photos show that the militias destroyed at least 301 villages, including with aerial bombardments and helicopter gunships, and damaged an additional 76. He also said they had burned crops, killed or stolen cattle and destroyed irrigation systems.

Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir, in an interview published yesterday, accused “foreign circles” of meddling in his country’s internal affairs.

He told the Egyptian daily Al-Gomhoriya that the “problem in Darfur was never an ethnic one and the proof is that there are confrontations between Arab tribes.”

“The government has never put a single obstacle on the path of the humanitarian organizations,” he said.

But Mr. Boucher said the administration has “not seen any action by the government to bring this under control.”

At the same time, he said, Mr. Powell will praise Sudan’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism, as well as the agreement it reached last month with southern rebels to end the country’s 21-year civil war.

“We have established with the government of Sudan a lot of cooperation against terrorism. Sudan is no longer a place where terrorists can feel they can come and go freely and take refuge,” Mr. Boucher said.

But he said the country is not ready yet to be taken off the blacklist.

He also rejected suggestions that Mr. Powell’s visit may be viewed as rewarding Sudan.

The only other state sponsor of terrorism the secretary has visited is Syria, where he went a year ago, soon after Saddam Hussein’s ouster in neighboring Iraq.

“We’ll give credit where credit is due, and we’ll make very clear our concerns where there is not enough action,” the spokesman said. “And Darfur is certainly a place where there’s not enough action.”

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