Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Condoleezza Rice decries worsening Darfur violence


Violence is getting worse in Darfur despite international peace efforts, and Sudan's central government can no longer resist the world's will to send in peace forces, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.

"Time is running out," the top US diplomat told participants in an emergency international meeting on the three-year-old conflict in the African nation.

Rice called the meeting of about two dozen nations and international organizations on the sidelines of the UN opening session to push for a stronger international peace force despite objections from Sudan's government.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution last month that would expand the mission from 7,000 to more than 20,000 troops and give it new authority to protect civilians.

But Sudan's government vehemently opposes the introduction of UN forces in Darfur, where fighting between rebels and government-backed militias has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003. The UN has called it the world's worst humanitarian disaster, and the US has labeled the attacks genocide.

"The violence in Darfur is not subsiding, it is getting worse," Rice told the gathering. "If the notion of our responsibility to protect the weakest and most powerless among us is ever to be more than an empty promise, then we must take action to save lives."

After the meeting, Rice hinted at stronger action if Sudan will not back down.

"There are other measures at the disposal of the international community should we not be able to get the agreement of Sudan," Rice told reporters.

A group of Darfur-born exiles called Rice's efforts a good first step, but it also criticized the US and other world powers for doing too little too late to stop a daily tide of killings and rapes in Darfur's ravaged villages and teeming refugee camps.

"Our call today is to the entire world ... to extend their hands to save these people," Yahya Osman said. "What is happening in Darfur is a silent genocide."

Other refugees at a press conference in Rice's Manhattan hotel described the deaths of cousins, uncles and other relatives at the hands of Sudanese government forces or the mounted Arab militiamen known as Janjaweed that they support.

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