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US House backs Darfur sanction bill

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WASHINGTON, Apr 6 (Reuters) The US House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation aimed at helping to stop atrocities in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

The Senate passed similar legislation last November.

Yesterday's vote came shortly after a former Sudanese slave, Simon Deng, completed a symbolic 300-mile freedom walk to the steps of the US Capitol.

''I walked to be the voice of those who have no voice,'' Deng told reporters at a rally outside the Capitol after his three-week trek from New York to Washington. He was accompanied by Manute Bol, the Sudanese-born former Washington Bullets basketball player.

Deng was captured as a child but eventually escaped and made his way to New York. He is now an activist trying to promote awareness of the tragedies in his homeland.

The House measure, which was approved by a 416-3 vote, would authorize sanctions against individuals, or their relatives, responsible for ''genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity'' in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Their assets could also be frozen.

Up to 400,000 people have died in Darfur in what the United States regards as genocide. About two million people have been displaced and countless have been kidnapped, raped or harmed in other ways.

The bill does not call for US force in Darfur but it does seek US support for international and African Union humanitarian efforts and programmes to protect civilians.

The legislation also encourages US President George W Bush to deny Sudan access to oil revenues by blocking cargo ships or oil tankers from US harbors.

''The crisis in Darfur continues with catastrophic consequences,'' said New Jersey Republican Rep Chris Smith, who traveled to Sudanese refugee camps in August. ''This conflict is very real, it is ongoing, and it demands our resolute attention.

The rally outside the Capitol attracted politicians across the political spectrum, from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California to Sen Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican.

Reuters PG VP0525

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