U.N. Official Calls for Darfur Autonomy

Sudan should grant autonomy to its Darfur region in order to end 19 months of violence there, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday.

"There has to be some clear partition of power in Darfur," the official, Ruud Lubbers (search), said of the region where a conflict between people of African and Arab origins has led to an estimated 50,000 deaths and the displacement of 1.4 million people.

Autonomy would not mean "the total giving away of Darfur" by Sudan's central government in Khartoum, Lubbers told reporters in Chad, whose eastern territory borders Darfur (search).

The two Darfur rebel groups have long demanded autonomy, but the government has refused the degree of self-government they seek.

Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs, Mohammed Youssef Abdullah, insisted Friday that the government could negotiate with the rebels on autonomy.

"What do they mean by an autonomous region? This is something to be discussed," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Cairo.

Lubbers' autonomy suggestion went as far as any international official has done in proposing solutions for the conflict in Darfur, which the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The United States says genocide has occurred in Darfur — a charge the Sudanese government rejects.

The Arab-dominated government denies widespread allegations that its troops and allied Arab militia, the Janjaweed (search), have conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign against Darfur's African population.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. diplomat said it may take up to two years to disarm the Arab militia and secure the region for the return of 1.2 million people who fled the violence there.

There are no "30-day, 90-day quick fixes" to the problem, said Charles Snyder, the State Department's Senior Representative on Sudan, speaking in Nairobi, Kenya. "This is going to take, in my view, 18 months to two years to conclude the first phase" of making the region safe for people to return.

Lubbers spoke of international concerns to restore security for Darfur's civilians "if the political will of the Sudanese authorities doesn't produce an ending of violence on the ground."

Last weekend, the U.N. Security Council resolved to consider sanctions against Sudan's oil industry if the government does not act quickly to stop the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Lubbers said there needs to be renewed peace talks between the government and rebel groups. Negotiations mediated by Nigeria broke down last week.

"We need very much the people of the African Union," Lubbers said, referring to the African Union monitors in Darfur and other troops on offer from the 51-nation African body.

Lubbers began Friday a five-day mission in which he is expected to visit camps of Darfur refugees in eastern Chad and western Sudan and meet government officials in Khartoum.