NAIROBI, Jan. 8 -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declined to say Saturday whether Sudan was still committing genocide through a campaign of killings, rapes and other abuses by government-sponsored Arab militias that have left 1.2 million black Africans homeless in the country's western region of Darfur.
Four months ago, in a dramatic statement, Powell said the government in Khartoum had committed genocide and "genocide may still be occurring."
_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Q&A: Darfur A brief explanation of the issues and current humanitarian situation in Western Sudan.
Photos: Continuing Crisis
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
Sudanese Leaders, Southern Rebels Finish Peace Deal (The Washington Post, Jan 1, 2005)
Sudan, Southern Rebels Set Date to Sign Pact (The Washington Post, Dec 26, 2004)
Abandoned by Bin Laden (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2004)
A Peace Force With No Power (The Washington Post, Dec 11, 2004)
Sudan Calls for Normalized U.S. Ties (The Washington Post, Dec 6, 2004)
On Friday, in a report to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan said the situation in Darfur was deteriorating, with the government and rebels violating cease-fire agreements and aid organizations finding it difficult to reach vulnerable areas. He said the Sudanese government was not trying to bring militia leaders to justice and instead was including them in military operations.
But with Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, at his side, Powell sidestepped a question by a reporter about whether he believed Sudan was still committing genocide in the region.
"It was my judgment that genocide was taking place," said Powell, who came to Nairobi to witness the signing Sunday of a comprehensive accord ending an unrelated conflict in southern Sudan. "I haven't seen the secretary general's latest report, but I look forward to examining it."
Powell said the southern Sudan peace agreement, which will end Africa's longest-running conflict, should help jump-start efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He noted that the Security Council could still impose sanctions against Sudan, "and we do not take any of those options off the table."
The north-south deal "gives us a basis now to redouble our efforts to solve the problem in Darfur," Powell said. "We will stand fully behind this comprehensive agreement and hopefully will use it to work on the problem of Darfur," which he called a "difficult, terrible conflict."
Sudan is subject to U.S. sanctions. Powell said U.S. officials would review its relations with Sudan "step by step," which appeared to indicate any improvement in ties would be linked to progress on Darfur.
Some analysts have said Sudan's government has used the north-south deal to distract the world from the suffering in Darfur. But Taha told reporters that the government would "join hands to resolve the situation in Darfur so that finally we have national comprehensive peace in all parts of the country."
The north-south conflict has pitted the northern, Muslim part of the country against the mostly animist and Christian south. The talks involved not only questions of religion and autonomy but also how to distribute resources, especially oil.
Under the agreement, the southern region will have six-years of self-rule before holding a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or become independent. John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, will become vice president.