LONDON -- A majority of U.N. Security Council members oppose immediate heavy sanctions on Sudan if it fails to quell ethnic violence in its western Darfur region by a deadline at the end of the month, Britain's Foreign Office said Friday.
Some countries opposed sanctions on principle; others feared that vested interests in Sudan would be damaged by economic embargoes; and others -- including Britain -- were wary of giving the impression that the "international community is beating up on the government of Sudan," a senior Foreign Office official said.
On July 30, the Security Council gave Sudan 30 days to disarm the Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, or face economic or diplomatic punishment. More than 30,000 people have been killed and a million forced to flee their homes in Darfur, which the United Nations has deemed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Days before British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's visit to Sudan, officials briefing reporters Friday said council members were still debating what to do if Sudan misses its deadline -- but that swift, severe action was unlikely.
The Darfur conflict began 18 months ago, when black African rebel groups rose up against Sudan's Arab-dominated government, claiming discrimination in the distribution of scarce resources in the large, arid region. Since then, the Arab militias have gone on a rampage, destroying villages, killing and raping across the region.
International rights groups have accused Khartoum of backing the Janjaweed in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the African villagers. Sudan has long denied that, saying the fighting was a result of tribal conflicts.
However, a U.N. official told The Associated Press on Friday that the Sudanese government demonstrated it has influence over some of the Arab militiamen by promising to give the United Nations in the coming week a list of fighters believed to be involved in the bloodshed.
"The government used to refer to the Janjaweed as a bunch of thugs and absolutely denied any ties with them," Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan, said in telephone interview from a Darfur refugee camp.
"But by promising to provide this list, they are admitting they have influence on some members of the Janjaweed militias, which marks a huge progress on the position of the Sudanese government. Simply put, they have control over them," she said.
In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, met with the U.N. envoy to Sudan in Khartoum on Thursday and indicated "that the names and numbers of the militia would be provided shortly."
In deciding what to do, the Security Council will consider how much progress Sudan has made in giving access to humanitarian groups, tackling human rights abuses, providing security to people in Darfur and negotiating with rebel groups, the British official said.
Possible action ranged from the soft option of rolling over the deadline for another 30 days, to severe sanctions such as an oil embargo. Travel bans on Sudanese ministers and freezing assets were other possibilities, said the official, who will accompany Straw on a two-day trip to Sudan starting Monday.
The Darfur conflict has grave regional implications, with some 180,000 refugees already crossing over the volatile border into Chad. The United Nations on Friday warned that tens of thousands more refugees could flee Darfur, further straining Chad's resources.
African Union-sponsored peace talks are scheduled for Monday in Nigeria, bringing together Sudanese government officials and high-level delegations from the two rebel groups fighting government forces.
The African Union has sent 80 observers to monitor a rarely adhered to April 8 cease-fire. Rwanda already has 150 troops on the ground in Darfur to protect the observers, and Nigeria is expected to send 150 troops to Darfur later this week to bolster the AU force.
Like other Western nations, Britain is keen for the African Union to take the lead, finding African solutions for African problems. It is providing financial and logistical support behind the scenes but has refused to rule out military intervention of its own.
Britain welcomes an African Union proposal to beef up its forces in Sudan to 1,800, but does not believe the mandate of the force should be extended to protecting the people of Darfur. "We think that the best way to deliver security to the people of Darfur is to get those with primary responsibility for it to do it ... the government of Sudan," the official said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that more aid is needed in Darfur because many people there are reluctant to go far from their villages to find supplies and work the land. With around a million people living in mostly crowded and unsanitary conditions without regular access to clean water, aid groups fear massive disease outbreaks.