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Rep. Chris Smith presses Sudanese leaders on human rights record

8/20/2005 7:21pm

The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. - U.S. Rep. Chris Smith has met with leaders in Sudan, pressing them to improve human rights and to resolve violent conflict in the African nation's Darfur region.

Speaking by telephone Saturday from the capital city of Khartoum, Smith said he has met in recent days with top government leaders, pressing for enhanced security at refugee camps so humanitarian workers can better do their jobs. He also called on the Sudanese government to have political will to continue the peacemaking process.

Smith, R-Robbinsville, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Human Rights. He has been touring Ethiopia and Sudan since Aug. 14.

Sudanese leaders appealed for the lifting of economic sanctions against the country. But Smith said that cannot happen until more tangible improvements in human rights are made.

The U.S. Rep. said he also toured two refugee camps, where disease is being brought under control through improved sanitation and medical intervention.

Congress and the White House have labeled the violence in Darfur a genocide. Fighting began in February 2003 when rebels from black African tribes took up arms, complaining of discrimination and oppression by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

The government has been accused of unleashing Arab tribal militia against civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. At least 180,000 people have died - many from hunger and disease.

The 53-nation African Union has more than 5,000 peacekeepers and civilian police officers in Darfur, but is expected to more than double the size of force by the end of September.

Smith said more equipment, such as vehicles and communications gear, is needed for those peacekeepers, who escort aid workers and medical and food deliveries.

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