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UN official proposes autonomy for Darfur

ABECHE, Chad -- The UN High Commissioner for Refugees proposed autonomy for the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, a solution the government has resisted but said yesterday it would be willing to discuss anew in an effort to end the violence that has killed 50,000 people.

Further, the US State Department's representative for Sudan said it would take as long as two years to disarm the Arab militia blamed for the violence and secure the region so 1.4 million displaced people could return home.

Ruud Lubbers, UN refugees commissioner, proposed the solution to the 19-month conflict, which has been described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"There has to be some clear partition of power in Darfur," Lubbers said in Chad, whose eastern territory borders Darfur.

He added that he did not mean that Sudan's central government give away Darfur, but that it provide "a limited amount of autonomy within the framework of the territorial integrity" of Sudan, Africa's largest country.

Nothing less than radical change would stop the violence, the refugee chief said. "We have an enormous responsibility now, not to accept that this can go on and on," Lubbers said at a border town serving as the UN base for camps holding most of the 200,000 Darfur refugees in Chad.

The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has denied widespread allegations that its troops and allied Arab militia, called the Janjaweed, have conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's African population in retaliation for the uprising launched last year by the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equity rebel movements.

Leaders in Khartoum previously have refused the degree of self-autonomy demanded by the two rebel groups in Darfur. Even so, a senior Sudanese official said yesterday the government was open to talks on Lubbers's proposal.

"What do they mean by an autonomous region? This is something to be discussed," Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs, Mohammed Youssef Abdullah, said in a telephone interview.

The State Department's senior representative on Sudan, Charles R. Snyder, said yesterday it would take "18 months to two years" to disarm the Janjaweed militia and secure Darfur for refugees.

Last weekend, the UN Security Council resolved to consider sanctions against Sudan's oil industry if the government did not act to stop the violence in Darfur.

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