AL-FASHER, Sudan (AP) _ American civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the conflict-torn region of Darfur on Friday, urging the Sudanese government and African rebels to end the crisis that has killed thousands of villagers and driven more than a million from their homes.
Arriving in the provincial capital of North Darfur in an aircraft lent by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Jackson said he wanted to ``observe first hand what we have heard through testimony and what we have read.''
``It is obvious there is a great humanitarian crisis,'' Jackson told The Associated Press after landing at an airport in the North Darfur capital of Al-Fasher, where he was met by a delegation of tribal leaders and officials.
``We call for collective action soon to stop the violence and open up the roads for relief and that requires a worldwide effort,'' said Jackson, who wore a black baseball cap bearing the logo ``Unite.''
``Timing is of the essence as people are dying every day.''
Jackson, a former U.S. presidential candidate, called on President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry to concentrate their efforts on helping the people of Darfur.
He planned to tour the Abu Shouk camp on the outskirts of Al-Fasher, which is home to more than 43,000 displaced people. His visit came three days before a U.N. deadline for the Sudanese government to disarm Arab militiamen blamed for the Darfur violence or face possible diplomatic or economic penalties.
The United Nations describes the situation in Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis and says more than 30,000 people have been killed and 1.4 million displaced in an 18-month conflict. The violence began after two African rebel factions rose against the government, claiming discrimination in the distribution of scarce resources in the arid western region.
Since then, Arab militias called the Janjaweed have gone on a rampage, destroying villages, killing and pillaging across Darfur, a region the size of France.
The U.S. Congress and U.N. officials accuse Khartoum of backing the militia in a scorched earth campaign to suppress the revolt _ an allegation it strongly denies.
Jackson, who has appealed to Gadhafi to help solve the Darfur problem, was later briefed on the crisis by North Darfur governor Othman Mohammed Youssef at his Al-Fasher residence.
``We agree that we have a problem in Darfur. There is suffering, there is displacement, it is all happening, but not at the levels which is reflected in international media,'' Youssef told Jackson during the briefing attended by senior local and military officials.