The US on Monday launched a new drive to bolster international peacekeeping forces in Sudan's bloodied Darfur region as a key to ending one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
US President George W. Bush said yesterday Washington would ask the UN Security Council to transform a beleaguered African Union (AU) contingent in Darfur into a larger UN force to enforce last week's landmark peace deal.
"The vulnerable people of Darfur deserve more than sympathy. They deserve the active protection that UN peacekeepers can provide," Bush said, flanked by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Robert Zoellick.
Bush also urged Congress to speed approval of US$225 million already requested for food aid for Sudan and announced efforts to immediately dispatch some US$41.3 million worth of emergency food assistance.
The renewed US push came three days after Khartoum and the main rebel group in Darfur signed a peace pact to end three years of fighting in the arid region of western Sudan that Washington says has left some 200,000 people dead.
US officials, who have branded the bloodshed as genocide, said their aim was to transform the beleaguered 7,000-strong AU contingent in Darfur into a UN force with double the manpower and increased NATO logistical support.
A US draft resolution circulated on Monday at the UN urged that UN peacekeepers already in southern Sudan be shifted to Darfur. Bush said Rice would present the text at a ministerial meeting yesterday of the Security Council.
"We're now working with the UN to identify countries that contribute those troops, so the peacekeeping effort will be robust," the president told reporters in Washington.
But Khartoum has resisted the deployment of UN troops in Darfur and US officials acknowledged that two phone calls by Bush to Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir produced no immediate sign he had changed his mind.
Cindy Courville, White House aide for African affairs, said Bush urged quick action on the peacekeeping proposal in calls last week and on Monday morning but so far "we've had conflicting messages" from Khartoum.
"President Beshir said they he would soon give us a response ... to the transition and welcoming a UN mission but he did not in the conversation this morning give an exact time," she told reporters in a conference call.
Bush said the peace deal, which Zoellick helped ram through in Abuja, Nigeria, gave Sudan a chance at a new start after the conflict that left some 2.4 million people homeless. But he added that much work remained.
"We're still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear," the president said.
"America will not turn away from this tragedy. We will call genocide by its rightful name," he said.
The US draft resolution circulating on Monday would expand the mandate of the 10,100-strong UN mission (UNMIS) currently deployed in south Sudan to include support for the Abuja accord.
The text also would ask UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to report to the Security Council within 30 days of adoption of the resolution on recommendations for "additional force requirements, modifications to the UNMIS structure."
Bush, meanwhile, has urged Congress to speed approval of US$150 million in food aid for Darfur and US$75 million for the rest of Sudan that was submitted in a supplementary budget request earlier this year.