UNITED NATIONS -- Satellite photos of the Darfur region of western Sudan show destruction in 377 villages, and there have been reports of fighting or threatened attacks in every camp for displaced people, the US aid chief said.
Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, warned that time is running out to help 2 million Sudanese in need of aid in Darfur. He said his agency's estimate that 350,000 could die of disease and malnutrition over the next nine months ''is conservative."
Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the Darfur region next week to press Khartoum to disarm progovernment Arab militias, the State Department announced yesterday. Powell's visit, next Tuesday and Wednesday, was approved by President Bush, it said. Powell would be the highest-level US official to visit the Sudan since President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, met briefly with Sudanese officials during a refueling stop in 1978.
Fighting between Arab militias and African residents has killed thousands of people and forced more than 1 million to flee their homes. International rights groups say the government has backed the Arab fighters in an ethnic-cleansing campaign against the African villagers.
Natsios put the blame on the Sudanese government, saying US and UN reports from the country show that the Sudanese military is directly connected to Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, that are fighting in Darfur.
''They arm them, they use them, and now they have to stop them," Natsios said in an interview Wednesday with two reporters after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Annan plans to visit Sudan soon and assess the situation in Darfur.
Last week, Annan said the United Nations had asked the Sudanese government to take steps to contain the Janjaweed. The government denies complicity in the militia attacks against the black African population, blaming the trouble in Darfur on rebels and criminal gangs, but Annan said ''from all accounts, they can do something about the Janjaweed."
Natsios said that despite frequent Sudanese government announcements about ''all the things they've done to improve things," virtually nothing has changed on the ground. The latest weekly assessment of conditions in the 36 camps for displaced people in Darfur showed that in every one, security was poor and those taking refuge faced attacks or threats of attacks, Natsios said.
''They've got to stop stonewalling the relief effort," Natsios said of the government. ''What they need to do is enforce the agreement they signed" in neighboring Chad on April 8 to allow humanitarian agencies into the area.
Fighting erupted in February 2003, when African tribes in Darfur rebelled against what they regarded as unjust treatment by the Sudanese government in their struggle over land and resources with Arab countrymen.
USAID released updated figures yesterday saying satellite photos of 578 villages in the Darfur region found that 301 were destroyed, 76 damaged, and 199 intact. Two were determined to be old ruins. The US agency also obtained photographs of 87 villages in neighboring Chad, in the area bordering Darfur, and reported that eight were destroyed, 24 damaged, and 55 not damaged.