updated 9/24/2004 3:05:59 PM ET 2004-09-24T19:05:59

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees proposed autonomy for the troubled Darfur region of Sudan — a solution the government has resisted but said Friday it would be willing to discuss  in an effort to end the violence that has killed 50,000 people.

Also, the U.S. State Department’s representative for Sudan said it would take up to two years to disarm the Arab militia blamed for the violence and secure the region so 1.4 million displaced people could return home.

New ground
UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers went as far as any international official has done previously in proposing solutions to the 19-month conflict, which has been described by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“There has to be some clear partition of power in Darfur,” Lubbers said in Chad, whose eastern territory borders Darfur.

But he added that autonomy would not mean “the total giving away of Darfur” by Sudan’s central government.

The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has denied widespread allegations that its troops and allied Arab militia, called the Janjaweed, have conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign against Darfur’s African population in retaliation for the uprising launched last year by the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equity rebel movements.

Leaders in Khartoum previously have refused the degree of self-autonomy demanded by the two Darfur rebel groups. However, a senior Sudanese official said Friday the government was open to talks on Lubbers’ proposal.

Devil's in the definition
“What do they mean by an autonomous region? This is something to be discussed,” Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs, Mohammed Youssef Abdullah, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt.

Lubbers also spoke of international concerns to restore security for Darfur’s civilians “if the political will of the Sudanese authorities doesn’t produce an ending of violence on the ground.”

Last weekend, the U.N. Security Council resolved to consider sanctions against Sudan’s oil industry if the government did not act quickly to stop the violence in Darfur and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has shrugged off the U.N. resolution, saying his government was not afraid of it.

U.S. calls violence genocide
The United States says genocide has occurred in the Darfur conflict — a charge the Sudanese government rejects.

The State Department’s Senior Representative on Sudan, Charles Snyder, said Friday it would take “18 months to two years” to disarm the Janjaweed militia and secure Darfur for refugees.

He also told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, there were no “30-day, 90-day quick fixes” for Darfur’s lack of security.

Lubbers said there needed to be renewed peace talks between the government and the Darfur rebel groups after Nigeria-moderated negotiations broke down last week.

“We need very much the people of the African Union,” the UNHCR chief said, referring to the African Union monitors in Darfur and other troops being offered by the 51-nation African body.

Lubbers was beginning a five-day mission in which he is expected to visit camps of Darfur refugees in eastern Chad and western Sudan and meet government officials in Khartoum.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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