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Germany

Fischer Pressures Sudan to Act to Avert Tragedy

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has held discussions with the Sudanese president and foreign minister, saying the EU and Germany will only provide aid if Sudan acts to resolve the crisis in the Darfur region.

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Fischer and his Sudanese colleague, Mostafa Osman Ismail

After what Fischer described as "earnest and open discussions" with the president Omar el-Bashir and foreign minister Mustafa Ismail of Sudan, the German foreign minister said he made it clear that the European Union and Germany would not involve themselves in the country as long as the problem in Darfur remained unsolved. He called on the government to act immediately.

"The humanitarian catastrophe must be prevented," he told reporters, saying the Sudanese government must "arrest those responsible in Darfur and open up humanitarian aid routes."

Fischer, who arrived in Khartoum late Sunday, demanded the disarming of pro-government Arab militias, which are seen as the cause of much of the instability in the region and have been accused by the United Nations of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Fischer called on the government to immediately rein in the militias.

He said aid organizations must have free access to the crisis regions and that as soon as a peace agreement was put into place, Germany and the European Union would again offer support.

"But Darfur must be resolved," he stressed.

Fischer also denied reports in the Sudanese press that Germany was aiding the insurgents in Darfur

"We are supporting no rebel group. We are supporting no rebellion," he said.

Khartoum agrees to act

While the government has rejected accusations by aid groups that the government is still backing the Arab militias that are responsible for most of the looting, destruction and ethnic evictions, President el-Bashir said the government would disarm the militia groups and Ismail assured reporters that that Fischer's demands would be met.

"But what's the hurry?" he asked when journalists pressed him on a time frame.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said during a visit last week that Sudan would face global sanctions if it did not move to stop the violence.

Fischer arrived in Darfur with 3.5 tons of medicine for Darfur, enough for 1,000 people for a month. Travelling with him is Deputy Foreign Minister Kerstin Müller. While Fischer is scheduled to fly back to Germany on Monday, Müller will stay to visit the Darfur region and assess the situation.

Rebellion and counter-rebellion

The unrest stems from long-standing tension between nomadic Arab tribesman and African farmers. In February 2003, two black African groups rebelled against the Arab government in Khartoum, demanding autonomy and more investment for the province.

Pro-government Arab Janjaweed militia retaliated to the rebellion with brutal force, provoking what the United Nations has called the world's worst current humanitarian catastrophe. It is estimated that 30,000 people have been killed and more than one million people have been forced from their homes and villages

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