EU ministers threaten Sudan with sanctions

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union joined the United States on Monday in pushing for U.N. sanctions against Sudan if it does not end the conflict in its western Darfur region. Sudan criticized the move, saying it would worsen the situation.

The EU's 25 foreign ministers urged the Sudanese government to implement a July 3 promise to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to crack down on pro-government Arab militias, improve security and provide better access for relief efforts.

EU officials said they were studying the possibility of freezing the assets of the Sudanese government and rebel leaders. Any final decision would be up to the U.N. Security Council.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States does not plan to send troops to Darfur. But he said the country was in "diplomatic high gear" at the United Nations.

U.N. Security Council members said a resolution on Sudan was in the works but concerns remain over the inclusion of the threat of sanctions. They said a vote on the draft could be held this week.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, visiting Turkey, said threatening sanctions did more harm than good.

"We don't need threatening. We don't need sanctions," Ismail said. "I think we should be given time. We should be supported."

Ismail said such pressure would discourage the rebels from negotiating. Peace talks in Ethiopia last week ended early when Darfur's rebels walked out.

Struggle over landThe violence in Darfur began 17 months ago when two rebel groups from the region's African tribes took up arms in a struggle over land and resources. Arab militias known as Janjaweed then began a brutal campaign to drive out the black Africans.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet African leaders this week to discuss a proposed "African solution" to the crisis, Nigeria's presidential spokeswoman, Remi Oyo, said Monday.

Also, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the crisis by phone Sunday. Russia has opposed the U.S. push for sanctions, and the two top diplomats were believed to have discussed that issue, although Russian officials did not comment.

Russia and other Security Council members, including Pakistan and China, have called for Sudan to be given sufficient time to meet its commitments under the July 3 agreement, and have appeared reluctant to threaten sanctions.

"We have to get it right," Pakistan's U.N. ambassador Munir Akram said. "We need a clear strategy on how to deal with the situation."

U.N. diplomats said privately that part of the hesitation about sanctions was a result of Sudan's oil wealth. They also indicated that Russia is sensitive to the issue of dealing with rebels because of its war with separatists in Chechnya.

The United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution last week that for the first time included a direct threat of sanctions against the Sudanese government if it doesn't rein in Arab militias accused of killing thousands in that country's western Darfur province.

A British official was "hopeful" that a vote could be held this week, saying the United States was expected to present a new draft resolution on Tuesday without significant changes.

The new draft would still include a regional arms embargo on Darfur and threaten sanctions on the government, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The EU, the United States and humanitarian groups have accused the Sudanese government of backing the militias -- a claim the government denies.

While taking a tough line, EU officials did not go so far as to label the killings in Darfur genocide -- as the U.S. Congress did last week -- because they said they wanted more evidence.

In a statement, the ministers said they were "extremely concerned ... by continuing reports of massive human rights violations" perpetrated by Arab militias, including the "systematic rape of women."

The foreign ministers demanded that the Sudanese government "immediately fulfill" U.N. demands to end the violence, or the EU would push for "further actions, including imposing sanctions."

"They know very well the threat of sanctions is imminent if they don't comply," said Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, whose country holds the EU presidency.

Backing up its threat, the EU said it was drafting a list of Janjaweed leaders "responsible for breaches and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and those guiding and supporting them."

"They need to be disarmed, and the responsible need to go to trial," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Up to 30,000 people, most of them black Africans, have been killed in Darfur, and an estimated 2.2 million are in urgent need of food or medical attention. The international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres warned on Monday that "urgent action is still overdue."

The group said death rates are already significantly above the "emergency threshold."

"This is not surprising as there are extreme shortages of water, food, shelter and latrines, which contribute to high levels of diarrhea among children, a major cause of death," the group said in a statement.

The 25 EU foreign ministers also urged Sudan to admit more aid workers to provide emergency food and shelter for more than 1 million people displaced in Darfur.

"The risk is very high for a potential catastrophe," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

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