BRUSSELS -- The European Union yesterday said it had found no evidence of genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur, although killing was widespread with little evidence of government efforts to protect civilians.
The conclusion of a fact-finding mission put the EU at odds with the US Congress, which has leveled accusations of genocide at Sudan over a campaign of looting and burning by Arab militias against African village farmers.
Sudan, which insists the Janjaweed militias are outlaws and denies rebel charges of arming them, said it expected to meet a UN deadline expiring in three weeks for it to improve security and human rights in Darfur or face sanctions.
Pieter Feith, who visited Sudan on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, showed little optimism, even as he declined to endorse the assessment of Congress.
''We are not in the situation of genocide there . . . But it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow, killing going on, and village burning on a fairly large scale," he told reporters.
''There are considerable doubts as to the willingness of Sudan's government to assume its duty to protect its civilian population against attacks," he said.
The International Criminal Court defines genocide as the ''systematic and planned extermination of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group."
The United Nations says more than a million people have been driven from their homes by the conflict and many are threatened by hunger and disease.
Health agencies yesterday reported an outbreak of hepatitis E in some of the teeming camps housing Darfur refugees, which could herald other epidemics with greater fatality rates.
The United Nations has threatened to consider sanctions unless Sudan proves it is disarming Arab militias and protecting civilians.
''We have a shortage of time but we think we can do it," Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters in Cairo, contradicting First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, who said on Sunday that ''logistical problems" made the deadline impractical.
Sudan pledged in talks with the United Nations last week to set up safe areas for uprooted villagers, to work to disarm the Janjaweed, and to stop offensive actions by its troops in civilian areas, all within a month or less.
Chief UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that Ismail and UN envoy Jan Pronk had signed letters to relay their agreement to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, but that the agreement had taken effect last week.
Bashir told reporters his government was ''fulfilling its role completely with regard to the protection of its civilians."
Ismail rejected international estimates of the death toll resulting from the conflict, where two rebel groups took up arms against the government in early 2003.
He said government estimates did not exceed 5,000 dead, including 486 police, adding:
''Those who say 30,000 and 50,000, we challenge them to bring their names, their families, their tribes, their graves."
Ismail said he was pleased that the Arab League and the African Union had both said there was no ''ethnic cleansing" or genocide in Darfur.
He said the government was providing most of the humanitarian aid in Darfur -- around 50 percent of its needs.