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US Lawmakers Urge Arab Pressure on Sudan

25 April 2007

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are urging Arab states to step up pressure on Sudan to end the bloodshed in Darfur. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where the House considered a resolution on the Darfur crisis.

Statements on Darfur came as the House considered a resolution urging the League of Arab States to acknowledge, and step up efforts to end the conflict in the region.

It urges Arab League countries to declare the systematic torture, rape and displacement of Darfurians a genocide.

The resolution also urges the Arab League to approve a resolution at its next meeting supporting the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur and recognizing this as the best option to enforce a ceasefire, protect civilians and ensure access to humanitarian aid.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer, who recently visited Darfur, referred to actions he says Egyptian President Mubarak pledged to take during a meeting with U.S. lawmakers.

"President Mubarak says that he has urged Bashir to accept and facilitate humanitarian worker's work, to make their visas accessible, make their travel around the country easier," he said. "I also understand that [Egyptian] foreign minister [Ahmed Abul] Gheit, with whom we met, is currently in Sudan and it is my hope he is delivering the same message that we spoke of."

Hoyer was referring to the Egyptian official's visit to Khartoum this week, during which he delivered a message from President Mubarak and discussed the situation in Darfur.

But some U.S. lawmakers have also noted an Egyptian government statement criticizing moves to impose sanctions against Sudan over the Darfur issue.

Yvette Clark, a New York Democrat, says the Arab League has a special responsibility where Darfur is concerned.

"The purpose of the League of Arab States is to coordinate the cultural and security policies of its member states, of which Sudan is a member," said Clark. "If genocide or any atrocity is taking place in one member state, the other member states have a duty to recognize and act to end it."

Republican Congressman Chris Smith says Arab governments need to do more to facilitate a solution in Darfur:

"The collective voice of the Arab League could clearly help save thousands of lives and bring peace and security to Darfur," he said. "Right now, they are part of the problem. It is time the Arab League [becomes] part of the solution."

The resolution also strongly urges the Arab League to work with the United Nations, and with President Bush's special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, to bring about real and lasting peace and stability to Darfur, refugee camps, and areas along the border with Chad.

The resolution's main sponsor, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, was part of the most recent congressional delegation to Darfur, her third visit.

She notes that key Arab states such as Egypt Saudi Arabia are reported to have played a key role in pressing Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to agree to the second phase of a plan to deploy a hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force.

Lee adds there is no substitute for renewed Arab and international efforts to ensure that the full 20,000 strong force is deployed.

"There is still much more that they [Arab League] can do, and that we can do," she said. "We must demand that President Bashir follow through on the full deployment of the African Union - U.N. hybrid force, and we must urge all parties, the rebels and the government, to end the violence and come to the table to negotiate a political solution, but we cannot and we should not hold a ceasefire declaration hostage to a peace agreement and vice versa."

U.S. lawmakers, in particular members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have stepped up their own personal diplomacy during the past year with Arab League ambassadors and other officials on Darfur.

President Bush recently warned the U.S. will tighten financial and other sanctions against the Sudan government if it continues to ignore international demands to end violence in Darfur.

Some lawmakers wanted the president to announce immediate action, rather than give Khartoum a few more weeks to act, a request from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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