WASHINGTON – President Bush called for more U.N. peacekeepers for the Darfur region of Sudan on Monday and pledged an increase in U.S. food aid. He also welcomed a proposed peace accord as "the beginnings of hope" for Darfur's poverty-stricken population.
"Darfur has a chance to begin anew," Bush said. He said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would go to the United Nations on Tuesday to lend support for a new U.N. resolution increasing peacekeepers.
He also said he was asking Congress for another $225 million in emergency food aid for Darfur, was ordering the emergency purchase of 40,000 metric tons of food and was dispatching five ships loaded with food to the region.
"America will not turn away from this tragedy," Bush said, standing alongside Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, just back from Darfur.
Bush invited other countries to also do more to help relief famine in Durfur.
The president sought to build momentum for a peace agreement reached by Sudanese authorities and Darfur's main rebel group. The deal could help end a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people in three years and displaced some 2 million.
He praised the agreement as "a step toward peace."
"We're still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear," Bush added. "But we can now see a way forward."
The agreement signed Friday was between the government and the main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army; two smaller rebel groups refused to sign.
On Saturday, the president called Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian president who hosted talks on Darfur, and Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the president of the Republic of Congo and current head of the 53-nation African Union.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants Sudan to grant visas to a U.N. assessment team so it can visit Darfur and start planning for a U.N. peacekeeping force to take over from the African Union troops. Sudan has refused to allow the team to visit.
"An African Union force of about 7,200 from the region has done all it can to keep order. But they're patrolling an area nearly the size of Texas and they have reached the limits of their capabilities," Bush said.
"Our goal is this: We want civilians to return safely to their villages and rebuild their lives. That work has begun and completing it will require even greater effort by many nations," Bush said.
He noted that the United States currently accounts for more than 85 percent of the food distributed in Sudan by a world food program. "But the situation remains dire," Bush said.
"The government of Sudan must allow all U.N. agencies to do their work without hindrance. They should remove the visa and travel restrictions that complicate relief efforts. And all sides must cease attacks on relief workers," the president said.