Tuesday, June 29, 2004

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday the Sudanese government must rein in militia groups that he blamed for the uprooting of more than 1 million people in western Sudan.

Speaking to reporters while flying to the east African country, Mr. Powell called the situation in the Darfur province horrific and said prompt action is needed.

“The death rate is going to go up significantly over the next several months,” he said, regardless of how quickly outside aid is provided.

Immediately after arriving in Khartoum, Mr. Powell met with President Omar el-Bashir. Aside from restraining ethnic Arab militias, which have been attacking Darfur’s black population, Mr. Powell said he planned to urge Mr. el-Bashir to reopen a peace process for the region and to allow full access to Darfur for humanitarian aid groups and relief supplies.

Mr. Powell said Libya has expressed willingness to allow overland deliveries of humanitarian assistance. Libya and Sudan have a common border in the Darfur region.

Today, Mr. Powell plans to visit camps in Darfur that house some of the people displaced by the conflict, which U.S. officials have characterized as ethnic cleansing. The United Nations says some 2 million people desperately need food and humanitarian aid in the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Powell flew here after accompanying President Bush to a NATO summit in Turkey.

U.S. officials said the administration has moved aggressively to deal with the Darfur conflict, partly because the world’s inaction at the time of massive ethnic killing in Rwanda a decade ago contributed to the deaths of more than 800,000 people.

The United States spent $116 million on humanitarian relief for Sudan over the past year and has an additional $164 million in the pipeline. The United States has sent food, blankets and plastic sheeting to Darfur aboard at least 15 relief flights in recent weeks.

“We’ve got to act now because we’re running out of time,” Mr. Powell said. He described the situation in Darfur as moving toward genocide, “but we are not there yet.”

He added that he is aware of the possibility that Sudanese authorities may try to mask the gravity of the situation in Darfur by emptying camps for displaced people that Mr. Powell plans to visit.

“I will take into account everything I hear,” he said. “I think I can sort out where people are constrained from speaking. We have been watching these places through a variety of means. We know what they look like, how many people have been there in the past, and if suddenly there are not that many people there tomorrow, I will take that all into my computer.”

The conflict began as a rebellion by black Africans, who accused the government of widespread neglect. The counterinsurgency led by an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed has led to at least 30,000 deaths and substantial starvation and disease.

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