DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott. Peace talks to end the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region broke down today. The African Union had set tonight as a deadline for a peace accord. The Sudanese government said it would sign a tentative agreement, but rebels rejected the deal. Here in Washington, thousands of demonstrators packed the National Mall to demand that the Bush Administration and the international community take action to stop what they call genocide in Darfur. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.
Unidentified Man: Not on our watch!
Crowd: Not on our watch!
ALLISON KEYES reporting:
People were packed so tightly it was difficult to move through the crowd. Protestors held signs aloft reading: Not on our watch, and, Help those who cannot help themselves. Author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, explained to the crowd why the plight of the African villagers has resonated so deeply with his community.
Mr. ELIE WIESEL (Author, Holocaust Survivor): When we needed people to come to help us, nobody came. Therefore, we are here.
KEYES: Agnes Osuwaha(ph) is from Sudan. She raced through the crowd chanting with a group of her countrymen. She says the African Union troops on the ground now need help, be it from America or the United Nations.
Ms. AGNES OSUWAHA (Sudanese Native): We want them to send United Nations troop, and if they can't do that, I hope the U.S. will do it.
KEYES: Students have been at the forefront of the movement to help Sudan. Daniel Millenson is head of the Darfur Task Force and a freshman at Brandeis University. His group has been working to get schools and cities to divest assets in companies doing business with Sudan.
Mr. DANIEL MILLENSON (Darfur Task Force, Brandeis University): I think divestment itself is, people really respond to it, because it enables them to take very concrete action and stopping the financing of this war.
KEYES: Fighting broke out in Western Sudan in 2003 when mostly black African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government, which they said discriminated against them. Government backed Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, responded with a deadly campaign of rape, arson and murder. Estimates of the death toll range from 100,000 to 400,000. Many are also at risk of starvation. The United Nations World Food Program announced on Friday that it is cutting food rations in half in Darfur and Eastern Sudan due to a lack of funds.
But the question is, what exactly can be done to help? Salih Osman is a Darfurian human rights lawyer. Osman says people in his homeland want justice, though they are grateful that the U.S. has recognized their plight as genocide.
Mr. SALIH OSMAN (Darfurian Human Rights Lawyer): The U.S. government should implement at least the security consulate solutions that are related to the situation of Darfur. Like disarming the Janjaweed.
KEYES: President Bush met with Darfur advocates at the White House on Friday and offered support to the rallies planned this weekend.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe it's important for the United States to be involved and the best way to be involved with the AU troops is though NATO.
KEYES: NATO ministers said last week the alliance is ready to increase insistence, but its preference would only be in support of African or United Nations efforts. The Sudanese government says it doesn't want U.N. troops in the country. Yassir ab de Salaam(ph), the temporary Charge d'Affaires in the Sudan mission to the U.N., says seeking more troops in Darfur and holding rallies criticizing his government sends the wrong message.
Mr. YASSIR AB DE SALAAM (Charge d'Affaires, Sudanese Mission, U.N.): So one tends to believe that the Americans are not interested in peace in Sudan and they wanted to extend the conflict.
KEYES: Sudan expert Gail Smith says history shows that it would be dangerous to leave Sudan's government to it's own devices. She also agrees with critics, including many in the African-American community, who believe the situation in Sudan would have been a higher priority if it weren't an African country.
Ms. GAIL SMITH (Sudan Expert): Where we still have further to go is recognizing and acting upon the fact that there is a moral imperative. Whether it be in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America or in Europe. If an entire people are being wiped out, the entire world has responsibility to act.
KEYES: The critical point, according to Smith and other activists, is to keep up the pressure on Sudan. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.