WASHINGTON (AP) – A House committee approved $311 million on Friday to help victims of war and famine in Sudan as Congress took its latest step to deal with what the United Nations says is the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis.

In a mark of the bipartisan support behind the initiative, the money was barely mentioned as the House Appropriations Committee approved a $19.4 billion foreign aid bill for next year. The panel approved the measure, including the Sudan money, by voice vote.

In the day’s only major battle, the Republican-run panel used a mostly party-line 32-26 vote to reject a proposal by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., to spend $25 million for a family planning program by the United Nations in Iraq, Afghanistan and four other Asian and African countries. President Bush has blocked U.S. aid to major such U.N. programs since 2002.

Congress’ attention has begun to be drawn to the Darfur region of western Sudan, where the largely Arab Janjaweed militia has swooped down on the region’s mostly black farmers.

Up to 30,000 people have been killed and 2 million are said to be desperately short of food and medicine, including 1 million who have been displaced or become refugees.

Human rights groups accuse the Islamic government in Khartoum of arming the Arab militias for an ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur. The government denies that. Still, the bill bars any of the money from going to the government until it has “disarmed and disbanded government-supported militia groups” in Darfur and allowed humanitarian workers to enter.

The money includes $140 million to provide food, clothing and other disaster aid; $70 million to improve agriculture and roads; $53 million to help people who have fled to camps in Sudan and those who have become refugees in neighboring Chad; and other money for children, economic support and land mine removal.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the panel’s foreign aid subcommittee, had helped add another $95 million for Sudan in an earlier defense bill that Congress has yet to complete.

The overall foreign aid bill is $1.9 billion below Bush’s request and $1.9 billion above this year’s total.

It provides the full $2.2 billion Bush requested for helping 15 poor countries, mostly in Africa, battle AIDS. That is $600 million over this year’s amount.

Bowing to budget pressures, however, it cuts in half his $2.5 billion request for the millennium challenge account, a foreign aid program he started last year for helping countries that move toward democratic and humanitarian changes.

The measure also dispenses money to America’s allies for fighting terrorists.

There is $977 million in economic and military assistance for Afghanistan, making it one of the largest recipients of foreign aid. That includes $400 million to help train and equip the Afghan army, $350 million more than this year.

There also is $300 million in military assistance for Pakistan and a $46 million increase – to $66 million – for Poland’s defense forces.

The bill has no new money for Iraq, for which lawmakers approved $18.4 billion last year that so far has gone largely unspent.

The Senate has not yet written its foreign aid legislation.

The Appropriations Committee also used a voice vote to approve a $10 billion measure for next year’s military construction projects. Lawmakers added $450 million to Bush’s request, largely for bases and military units around the country.

AP-ES-07-09-04 1651EDT

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