AL-FASHER, Sudan – A U.S. congressman and the top American aid official who toured camps of displaced people in Sudan's troubled Darfur (search) region on Saturday called for the international community to do more to end the 19-month conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced since conflict erupted in February 2003.
"This is overwhelming," Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (search) said after touring Abou Shouk and Zam Zam camps that house 58,000 people in the al-Fasher area of North Darfur.
"Obviously, I've been following up the situation from the states but to see this — it is only one of 300 others — this is a major crisis," the Illinois Democrat told The Associated Press.
The government is accused of trying to put down the rebellion by backing armed Arab herdsmen known as Janjaweed who long have competed with villagers over Darfur's scarce resources.
The World Health Organization (search) has estimated 50,000 deaths from violence, disease or starvation in Darfur. More than 1.2 million have fled their homes to escape the violence.
"This crisis is not over, and now more than ever, it is time for the entire international community to redouble its efforts to save as many lives as possible," said Andrew S. Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
On Saturday the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution threatening Sudan with sanctions unless it acts to rein in the Arab militias.
The escalating violence has been described by the United States as genocide. On Saturday, German Defense Minister Peter Struck also said in published remarks that the atrocities in Darfur amounted to "genocide" and that he would not rule out sending peacekeeping troops.
Jackson said it's about time the world acts.
"The international community should stop dragging its feet and start doing more to place much pressure on Khartoum to end this," he said.
Government forces, including military and police, should be replaced by international units, he said. Jackson also has called for a larger role by the African Union, which has sent monitors and is mediating peace talks.
One man in Camp Zam Zam who would only identify himself as Ramadan told Jackson that his mother was killed when a military helicopter shelled their village.
Amkhier, a 20-year old mother of five, said people feel threatened even in the camp "and dare not leave its parameters or else will be beaten and raped."
Sudanese officials say they are being unfairly vilified, maintaining that Khartoum is doing its best to protect the camps and improve living conditions.
Al-Fattah Abdel-Aziz, a Sudanese official at camp Abu Shouk told Jackson that "conditions at the camp are just fine, and the only complaint is that people are deprived from a variety in their food basket."