President Bush said yesterday he was concerned about genocide in Sudan's troubled Darfur region but stopped short of offering military involvement...

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WASHINGTON — President Bush said yesterday he was concerned about genocide in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region but stopped short of offering military involvement beyond the logistical aid the U.S. now provides.

“This is a serious situation,” Bush said during a meeting at the Oval Office with South African President Thabo Mbeki. “As you know, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, with my concurrence, declared the situation a genocide.”

The Bush administration, which is providing logistical aid through NATO to African Union troops, has been criticized for not doing enough to end the killings and atrocities.

“Our government has put a lot of money to help deal with the human suffering there,” Bush said. As a signatory to a 1948 U.N. convention on genocide, the United States is committed to preventing the crime and punishing the perpetrators.

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The Darfur conflict broke out in February 2003 after rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government. The United Nations and other groups have accused Sudan’s government of arming Arab militiamen known as the Janjaweed to bomb villages and crush the rebels. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Bush said the United States will be contributing a transport plane as part of a NATO effort to help the African Union troops.

“Our view has been that it’s critically important that the African continent should deal with these conflict situations on the continent — and that includes Darfur,” Mbeki said.

The nonprofit International Crisis Group said the African Union forces may not be sufficient to address the scope of the problem in Darfur.

Adding to the instability, the Sudanese government over this past weekend arrested two officials with the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders. The organization had reported its doctors had collected medical evidence of some 500 rapes in Darfur and that the victims reported their attackers were soldiers or members of the government-backed militia.

In other Africa-related comments:

• Bush criticized Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s handling of an economic crisis marked by shortages in fuel, food and currency.

“We are concerned about a leadership that does not adhere to democratic principles, and, obviously, concerned about a country that was able to, for example, feed herself, now has to import food, as an example of the consequence of not adhering to democratic principles,” Bush said. The economy in the southern African nation has been sliding since Mugabe introduced his land-reform program and confiscated 5,000 white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

Zimbabwe police have arrested more than 22,000 urban shanty dwellers in recent days, sending homeless people fleeing to the countryside in a campaign the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has called a political vendetta against residents of its urban strongholds.

• Bush rebuffed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to persuade the world’s wealthiest nations to double aid to Africa. “It doesn’t fit our budgetary process,” Bush said. Blair, who is to meet with Bush in Washington next week, wants to raise an additional $50 billion per year for Africa — not just Sudan — when the Group of Eight industrial nations meet in Scotland in July.

• The president also talked by phone with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, repeating the U.S. appeal that the upcoming election in Egypt be “fair and free” in the wake of a violent crackdown on government opponents in Cairo. Bush has promised to make the spread of democracy the primary focus of his second-term foreign policy.

Compiled from Reuters, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Religion News Service and the Los Angeles Times

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