7 House Members Arrested at Sudan Embassy

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 16, 2006; 9:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- Seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus were arrested at the Embassy of Sudan on Tuesday while protesting conditions in the nation's Darfur region.

"We will not tolerate genocide," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the caucus chairman. "We are saying to Sudan this has got to stop."

The seven were taken away in Secret Service cars after blocking the entrance to an embassy. They were released a short time later after paying $50 fines.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., wore a green T-shirt that read, "End the Darfur Genocide."

Lee said she visited the Darfur region, where "I saw the desperation in the eyes of the people."

The Sudanese government and main Darfur rebel group signed an agreement on May 5 to end Darfur's three-year civil war, which has killed at least 180,000 and displaced some 2 million people. But there have been several attacks since the signing, U.N. officials said.

Khidir Haroun Ahmed, Sudan's ambassador to the United States, called the protest "unfortunate."

"We think the effort should be exerted toward persuading the other two rebel movements to sign the peace agreement," he said. A splinter faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement have resisted pressure to join the agreement.

Tuesday's protesters said they want an end to the violence; accountability for those responsible; U.N. peacekeepers; distribution of food to help prevent starvation; and full implementation of the peace agreement.

"Enough is enough," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "We must do all we can to stop the violence."

The other lawmakers arrested Tuesday were Reps. Al Green, D-Texas, Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.

The lawmakers held the rally on the steps of the embassy with the intention of getting arrested. The Secret Service was given advance notice, and let the lawmakers take questions for several minutes before arresting them. Last month, five other House members were arrested after a similar protest at the embassy.

Darfur has been torn by violence since rebel groups made up of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-led Khartoum government in 2003. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the Janjaweed who have been accused of some of the war's worst atrocities. Khartoum denies backing the Janjaweed but has said it will try to rein them in since the deal was signed.

© 2006 The Associated Press