Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he wanted to make a powerful statement by leading his first overseas congressional trip as House majority leader. So he went to Darfur, the region of Africa's Sudan that has been ravaged by genocide and torn by a civil war.
"I felt it was important to go where people are in trouble, who we can help, and there's nowhere in the world where people are in more trouble than Darfur," Hoyer said.
In Largo on Tuesday, Hoyer briefed about 30 community, business and political leaders in his 5th Congressional District on his visit to Darfur. Hoyer led a bipartisan delegation of 11 House members on a trip last week to Greece, Sudan, Egypt and Germany.
The centerpiece of the trip was Sudan, where Hoyer and the other politicians visited several cities and refugee camps. They met with senior Sudanese government officials, U.S. diplomatic staff and leaders of non-governmental agencies, as well as citizens of Sudan.
Upon his return, Hoyer called on the United States to do more to help the victims of what he called "a humanitarian crisis of very substantial proportions" in Sudan.
"I think it's important for all of us to focus not just on Darfur but everywhere in the world where powerless people are being killed by factions for political aims," Hoyer said. "We need to keep our focus on this because it is so easy to forget these folks who are in such dire straits."
He accused the Sudanese government, controlled by President Omar al-Bashir, of being "in denial" about the humanitarian situation in the nation.
"If the world outside does not force a solution, it will not happen, because the Bashir government is not interested in a solution," Hoyer said.
Since 2003, when the conflict in Darfur erupted between ethnic African rebels and the Arab-dominated central government, at least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.
Hoyer said he opposes sending U.S. troops to Sudan because it would be a "volatile" move. He said that if the United States deployed troops there, "Bashir would blow up the country."
"The presence of U.S. troops in Sudan would not be helpful in bringing peace. I believe that would be inflammatory," Hoyer said.
Instead, Hoyer said the United States and United Nations should continue to aid the refugees of violence in the country. He said one solution to the crisis could be increased economic development of the Darfur region.
The situation in Sudan has drawn increased worldwide attention in recent months. Other congressional leaders, as well as several presidential candidates, have pushed for more U.S. assistance in the region. Celebrities also have helped raise awareness to the subject; Hoyer specifically thanked actor George Clooney for speaking out on the issue.
Hoyer's delegation will compile its findings next week in a report that it will release publicly. The group included Democratic and Republican members from California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, New York, North Carolina and Virginia. The politicians returned to the United States on Saturday.
They met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to urge his government to become more active in Darfur and in efforts to secure peace in the Middle East.
In introducing Hoyer on Tuesday, Ollie P. Anderson Jr., president of the Association of Maryland Africa Societies, said "the majority leader did not have to go to Africa."
"I know that in the United States' foreign policy priorities, Africa is often low on the totem pole," Anderson said. But, he added, "Our member of Congress, our majority leader, went to Sudan."
Hoyer said being able to lead the delegation was one of the benefits of being the No. 2 member of the House.
"As majority leader, obviously I have some real perks," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.