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Rice says US seeks Libyan route to aid Sudan's refugees

WASHINGTON -- Facing resistance by Sudan's government, the Bush administration has turned to Libya to help mount a $100 million relief operation for the starving and harassed people of Darfur in western Sudan, a White House official said yesterday.

President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said "there is probably more to come" than the initial $100 million dedicated to the region where the US Agency for International Development estimates 350,000 might starve by next spring.

Darfur has emerged as a major humanitarian crisis because of a 16-month struggle between regional black tribesmen from the region and government-backed ethnically Arab militias. US officials have called it "ethnic cleansing," an effort to force out the desolate region's African majority. The United Nations says more than 30,000 people have been killed and 1 million displaced.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, with Bush in Turkey for a NATO meeting, is to fly to Sudan this week and go to Darfur to talk with relief workers.

"We have been very active with the international community in getting a lot of attention to that region," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday." "We're working with others, with the Libyans, to try to get a third route for supplies to get in to Darfur. And we've been putting a lot of pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the Janjaweed militia from doing the horrible things that they're doing in that region."

The government in Khartoum denies it is sponsoring the activities of the Janjaweed militia. The government of President Omar el-Bashir promised this month to begin disarming the raiders, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said little progress had been made.

The United States has been using costly airlifts for aid to the sprawling region, where more than 350,000 people have been displaced and 106,000 have fled into neighboring Chad. Land routes from Khartoum, the Sudan capital, and through Chad are difficult and dangerous.

US officials have said that an aid route through Libya would be cheaper and more efficient. Chad is landlocked, but aid could be sent to Libyan ports for transfer overland across the border into Darfur.

Until recently, such a program would have been impossible. Libya was under sanctions by the United Nations and the United States, and Moammar Khadafy's government and the US administration had no relations.

Libya decided last December to dispose of its deadliest weapons, and the two countries are in the process of establishing normal diplomatic relations.

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