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Bush frustrated with U.N. peace efforts in Darfur

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WASHINTON — President George W. Bush bemoaned the pace of U.N. efforts to end a wave of killings in Darfur, delivering strong words after meeting with a victim of the violence who was hidden by a red, black and white sheath for her safety.

The president also said Sudan's president must be held accountable for a five-year-old conflict that U.N. officials estimate has claimed the lives of up to 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million. The government in Khartoum says the figures are exaggerated.

Bush met in the Oval Office with Dr. Halima Bashir, who was tortured and gang-raped after speaking out about rapes of girls as young as eight near her remote clinic in Darfur. Bush held a copy of Bashir's book about the years of brutality, "Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur," and called her a "brave soul."

The president said he told Bashir that U.S. aid will continue to flow and the administration will use its influence to ensure that it gets to the people of Darfur.

"I also made it clear that I am frustrated with the pace of activities; that the United Nations must expedite sending troops, peacekeepers, to provide security for the people — that's what they want, they want to be able to have a secure life — and that we'll help," Bush said. "The United States continues to stand at the ready to provide airlift. The pace of action out of the United Nations is too slow."

The United States has called for a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Sudan's government has been accused of unleashing the janjaweed militia of Arab nomads to terrorize ethnic African communities in the western Darfur region as part of a fight with rebel groups. The militia has waged a campaign of violence against ethnic African civilians, including killings and rapes.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir must "know that he cannot escape accountability," Bush said. "He could change people's lives, the condition of people's lives very quickly."

Seated beside Bashir, the doctor, Bush said she had witnessed violence and deprivation and "carries a message of a lot of people who want our help."

Speaking softly, with only her eyes visible through her covering, Bashir said she was pleased "because now Darfur victims' voices is heard in the White House and to the American people and to the world."

"Because now more than five years and we do not need to wait anymore. We need real action," said Bashir, who is seeking asylum in Britain.