By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 2005 9:53 PM
DAKAR, Senegal, July 19 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she would press the government of Sudan to take specific steps to reduce the recurring rapes of women in camps housing about 2 million people displaced by ethnic violence in its Darfur region.
Rice, who will attend an economic conference here Wednesday before flying to Khartoum, said she wanted to see the Sudanese government denounce the attacks in a major public statement, launch a campaign to isolate and apprehend people who hurt women in the camps and demonstrate a "very strong willingness" to punish anyone caught attacking women.
Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has made three trips to Darfur in the past three months, and he raised the problem with the Sudanese government while visiting Khartoum earlier this month. Rice said she would follow-up on Zoellick's inquiry, and that the Sudanese government had indicated it would be prepared to offer some possible solutions during her visit.
Rice on Thursday plans to visit one the largest camps, Abu Shouk, where about 80,000 people are housed in acres of mud-brick homes. When Zoellick visited the same camp in April, women there told him that they feared leaving the camp, even to forage for firewood, and that it was often dangerous inside the camp at night.
About 1.9 million people live in more than 100 camps in Sudan -- and more are in camps across the border in Chad -- and tens of thousands have died in the Darfur conflict, which broke out in early 2003 when African rebel groups attacked police and military posts. The United Nations accused the government, which was Arab-led at the time, of supporting militias and bombing villages to crush the rebellion.
The African Union is building up a force of 7,700 troops in Darfur, with many troops being flown there through the assistance of NATO and the European Union. Rice said the expansion of the force should also increase security, though "we have still have to hold the Sudanese government accountable for what is going on in Darfur."
Earlier this month, a national unity government was formed after the implementation of a peace agreement ending the two-decade civil war between the Arab north and African south of the country. A former rebel leader, John Garang, became vice president, and U.S. officials have expressed hope that the inclusion of black Africans into the government will aid in resolving the tragedy in Darfur, an area the size of France in the western part of the country.
The creation of the unity government signals "a new era" and gives the United States "a new tool we did not have before," Rice said.
Rice had originally planned a much longer trip to Africa, but dropped much of her schedule so she can visit Israel and the West Bank later this week to help salvage cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians after a new outbreak of violence.
Israel next month plans to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, and signs of cooperation appeared hopeful when she visited the region last month.
Rice called on Israel's Arab neighbors to do more to end the attacks by Palestinian militant groups, saying the "Palestinian people have a great deal at stake on a Gaza withdrawal that is successful and peaceful."