WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday genocide was continuing in Sudan's Darfur region and she urged the African Union to accept the help of U.N. peacekeepers to stop the atrocities.
Speaking to U.S. lawmakers about Darfur, Rice voiced strong concern over what was happening in western Sudan and said the international community must act.
"It is our view that genocide was committed and in fact it continues in Darfur," she said, adding, "We are doing everything we can to deal with the impact of the situation in Darfur."
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of neglect. Khartoum denies U.S. charges of genocide but the International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes there.
About 7,000 African Union (AU) troops and monitors have been struggling to keep the peace in Darfur and international funding has nearly run dry for the African force.
The United States currently holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council and Rice said she hoped to get through a resolution for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
"The hold-up right now is that the African Union has not requested it and people are reluctant to do so without African Union backing," Rice told the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.
She said the United States was working closely with the AU to get this issue resolved. Sudan also has to give its permission for U.N. troops to go there.
MOBILE FORCE NEEDED
The U.N. Security Council has authorized U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to draw up contingency plans for U.N. peacekeepers to go into Darfur.
Annan said on Thursday he expected the Security Council to authorize a U.N. force to take over from the AU troops, the only bulwark against atrocities.
"We would want to see a force that is highly-mobile, on the ground and in the air," said Annan.
"We are doing our contingency planning to be able to move as fast as we can but of course we will be in the hands of member states, particularly the member states with well trained armies and armies with capacity to support us. We will be able to deploy as quickly as we get the assets."
Annan, who discussed Sudan with President George W. Bush and Rice in Washington this week, has said the United States should contribute troops and equipment to any U.N. force.
Washington, however, has been noncommittal so far on troops for such a mission. If there were to be any significant deployment of U.S. troops in Darfur it would be Washington's first major foray into African peacekeeping since it quit Somalia in 1994.
Annan said countries were waiting for a detailed U.N. plan before deciding what help they could offer for Darfur. (Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations)