By PATRICIA M.MURRET, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, told Prince George's County community leaders Wednesday that he had spent part of his spring break in Sudan to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Since 2003, more than 200,000 people have died in armed conflicts led by a militia group against several ethnic tribes in the western Sudanese region. Both the United Nations and President Bush have called the attacks "genocide."
The majority leader wanted to make a statement with the first trip he took in his new congressional role, he said.
"I felt it was important to go where people are in trouble," Hoyer said. "There's nowhere in the world today where the people are in more trouble than in Darfur, that we know about."
The more attention you bring to a problem, the more likely a solution will emerge, Hoyer said.
Hoyer led a bipartisan delegation of 11 members of Congress, including some of the Congressional Black Caucus and the highest-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The week-long, high-security trip included stops in Greece, Germany and Egypt.
In Sudan, Hoyer and his group met with the president of Southern Sudan, Salva Kir; speaker of Parliament of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, James Wani, and other regional ministers, including Rebecca Garang, transportation minister and widow of John Garang de Mabior, former Sudanese vice-president and leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, who was killed in a 2005 helicopter crash.
The delegation also traveled to a displaced persons camp in El Fasher in North Darfur and met with Maj. Gen. Luke Aprezi, the African Union Mission in Sudan Force Commander, as well as UN officials and non-governmental humanitarian organizations.
During his visit to Egypt, Hoyer asked the Egyptian government to take a leading role in helping the people of Darfur, he said.
"If the world outside does not force a solution, it will not happen, because the Bashir government, the central government in Khartoum is really not interested in a solution."
Hoyer's trip followed Bush's Feb. 16 call for an expanded role by NATO to reinforce faltering efforts by the African Union to keep peace in Darfur.
Bush said that he favored doubling the number of peacekeeping forces in the country in order to create some sense of security. NATO stewardship planning and facilitation would be required, Bush said.
Hoyer also recalled his conversation with a young African Union colonel who said more forces are need to bolster the union's 5,000 peacekeepers.
But, Hoyer said, a presence of U.S. troops would only be inflammatory to the hostile situation, although continued U.S. resources and diplomatic support are critical.
"The majority leader did not have to go to Africa," said Ollie Anderson, president of South Economic Development, and a board member of the Prince George's County Economic Corporation, in introducing Hoyer. "I've been associated with African and foreign policy for over 40 years. I'm a retired foreign service officer and I know that with American foreign policy, Africa is often at the lower end."