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In the past three years it's estimated that tens of thousands of people have been killed and at least two million displaced from there homes in the Darfur region of Sudan. Peacekeeping forces, provided by the African Union, are under-funded and ill-equipped. The Bush Administration has been promising to push for more troops and supplies and the United Nations is moving to replace the African Union forces. But the Sudanese government has been lobbying hard against a U.N. takeover. U.N. officials have said that Sudan is even suggesting that al-Qaida might return to the country to counter an international force.
It is against this backdrop that the African Union has to decide this coming week what to do. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
A year and a half after the Bush Administration declared Darfur as a genocide, U.S. officials acknowledge that the African Union Force needs much more outside help. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told students at Harvard this week that the U.S. is talking with its allies about offering A.U. troops more logistical support and intelligence resources.
Mr. ROBERT ZOELLICK (Deputy Secretary of State): You got 7,000 people there. The area, as I said, the size of Texas. You gotta know where the problem's gonna be. You need intel, you need sort of operational planning to help them with how they do the patrols. They need logistics help to fuel the helicopters as they get around.
KELEMEN: The U.S. is not talking about sending in troops or providing air support, as the U.N. has been seeking, but Zoellick says he thinks NATO can help more on the logistics side. The U.S. also supports the idea of the United Nations eventually taking over and sending more troops. Zoellick said he's trying to convince the government of Sudan that it would be a mistake to block the U.N.
Mr. ZOELLICK: And let me put in the most bald terms. Any time there's a conflict in Darfur and additional people die, they get blamed. Now, sometimes there's a lot of other reasons; there's rebel groups, there's Jinjaweed who they were probably associated with but maybe off on their own in different circumstances. So I've tried to make the point to the government, look, you're going to continue to be slammed internationally if we don't improve the security situation.
KELEMEN: Critics of the Bush Administration say that Washington should take a much tougher line. Congressman Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, said the U.S. and the U.N. should hold Sudanese officials accountable for arming the Jinjaweed militias in a counter-insurgency campaign that the U.S. has described as an ongoing genocide.
Representative DONALD PAYNE (Democrat, New Jersey): In addition to having boots on the ground, people who are responsible for genocide have to be brought before an international criminal court and have to be tried. Or you'll be having troops on the ground forever.
KELEMEN: Payne was part of a recent congressional delegation to Africa, though in protest he skipped the stop in Sudan. Others who did make the trip to Darfur and to Khartoum said everyone they met, except for Sudanese government officials, talked about the need to beef up the African Union force.
Bob Edgar of the Save Darfur Coalition urged the lawmakers and the Bush Administration to be generous.
Reverend Dr. BOB EDWGAR (Save Darfur Coalition): We can find money for war to stop Saddam Hussein, and yet we can't find the money or the resources or the will to stop the rape, the violence and the death that's taking place in Sudan.
KELEMEN: The African Union, which meets this coming week, had said it will run out of money by the end of March. While activists are pushing for more U.S. aid to the A.U. mission in Darfur, there's another grassroots campaign that's been gathering steam. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California has been supporting efforts to get universities and state pension funds to divest from companies that do business in Sudan.
Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California): And I'm very proud of students around the country. University of California students, they're trying to urge the board of regents to divest this month. But Harvard has divested. Stanford has divested. This is about money. It's about oil. It's about land.
KELEMEN: Lee says the goal is to squeeze the government of Sudan, and to pressure the Bush Administration not just to call Darfur a genocide, but to act.
Michelle Kelemen, NPR Washington.
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