Annan: U.N. action against Sudan possible

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Annan: U.N. action against Sudan possible

    Annan: U.N. action against Sudan possible
    Tuesday, June 29, 2004 Posted: 1:24 PM EDT (1724 GMT)

    DOHA, Qatar (Reuters) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday his trip to Sudan this week could lead to Security Council action against Khartoum if it does not act to ease a humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region.
    "Depending on what we see on the ground, the council may have to take further steps," Annan said in response to questions about punitive measures against Sudan. "If that government is not able or willing to do it (protect people in Darfur), the international community has to do something about it."
    Annan did not elaborate. He declined to set a timetable for Khartoum during his news conference in the Qatari capital, Doha, but said he would discuss the issue with African leaders.
    A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday that up to one million displaced Sudanese could die this year in Darfur.
    International donors and relief organizations are racing to beat incoming rains to place food and medicine at camps for those driven from their villages in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
    U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will fly to Sudan late Tuesday in the highest-level U.S. visit for more than two decades to press the Khartoum government to allow aid access and stop supporting marauding Arab militia, blamed for driving most of the refugees out of their homes.
    Criticized for responding too slowly to the crisis and under pressure in Congress to do more, Powell will threaten to push for U.N. sanctions against the oil-producing nation and warn government officials they could be pursued as war criminals, U.S. officials have said.
    "If nothing changes we will have one million casualties. If things improve we can get it down to about 300,000 deaths," Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Aid, told Reuters during a stopover in Turkey en route to Sudan.
    "Because a lot of the kids are already so malnourished, you just cannot bring them back," he said.
    Premature predictions
    In Khartoum the spokesman for the U.N. World Food Programme, Marcus Prior, said it was premature to make such predictions.
    "We believe it is too early to start talking in such bold terms," he told Reuters, in response to Natsios' warning.
    But he added: "What is clear is hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk. Unless we and the rest of the humanitarian community working in Darfur are properly resourced as soon as possible, we will have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands."
    WFP, which provides much of the relief food to Darfur, has a 68 percent shortfall in funding for its needs in the region until the end of this year, he said.
    In a conflict affecting about two million people in Africa's largest country, 1.2 million black Africans have fled their homes and live in camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad.
    A measles epidemic has erupted in one camp, there has been a case of polio and rains will likely bring mosquitoes and malaria, Natsios said.
    The government-backed Janjaweed militia have razed scores of villages and destroyed the water systems of three black African groups, while neighboring Arab villages remained intact. Sudan denies it supports the Janjaweed.
    The United States has provided more than $100 million in aid since last year for Darfur and expects to spend about $170 million more by the end of 2005, Natsios said.
    Washington says it is assessing whether the militias are responsible for genocide, a label that would legally oblige the United States to act to prevent such violence.
    The United States already has an array of its own sanctions against Sudan and could freeze assets of individual officials.
    Earlier this year, Khartoum pleased the United States by reaching a settlement in a separate conflict over a long-running civil war with rebels in the south of the country and was taken off a U.S. blacklist of countries with terror ties.
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