WASHINGTON – Five Congress members were willingly arrested and led away from the Sudanese Embassy in plastic handcuffs Friday in protest of the Sudanese government's role in atrocities in the Darfur region.
"The slaughter of the people of Darfur must end," Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., a Holocaust survivor who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said from the embassy steps before his arrest.
Four other Democratic Congress members — James McGovern and John Olver of Massachusetts, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Jim Moran of Virginia — were among 11 protesters arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor subject to a fine.
"We must hold the Sudanese government accountable for the attacks they have supported on their own citizens in Darfur," Olver said.
At the White House, President Bush met with Darfur advocates on Friday and lent his support to rallies planned in more than a dozen cities around the country this weekend to protest the violence in that embattled western region of Sudan.
"The genocide in Sudan is unacceptable," Bush said. "There will be rallies across our country to send a message to the Sudanese government that the genocide must stop. ... I want the Sudanese government to understand the United States of America is serious about solving this problem."
Dozens of demonstrators carried signs, some reading "Stop the slaughter" and "Women of Darfur suffer multiple gang rapes," in front of the Sudanese Embassy Friday morning.
The protesters cheered as the Congress members and others were cuffed, hands behind their backs, with plastic ties and quietly led to a white police van by U.S. Secret Service uniformed officers.
The arrests were expected. Lantos' office issued a news release about them in advance.
The protesters called on the Sudanese government to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and allow humanitarian relief organizations full access to victims. The three-year-old conflict between rebels and government-backed militias has left at least 180,000 people dead, mostly from war-related hunger and disease, and some 2 million homeless.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters and again after meeting with Darfur advocates, Bush said that the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, which has failed to halt the violence, must be expanded with international troops and augmented with logistical help from NATO.
He also urged the Sudanese government to "make a concerted effort" to reign in militias in Darfur and to make sure that international aid gets to the people. He called on both the government and rebel groups to reach agreement in those talks.