America and Britain seek UN resolution to back arms embargo on Sudan militias

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The Independent Online

The United States last night tabled proposals for a UN resolution that would impose an immediate arms embargo against Sudanese Arab militias, and warn the Sudanese government of possible sanctions in a month.

The United States last night tabled proposals for a UN resolution that would impose an immediate arms embargo against Sudanese Arab militias, and warn the Sudanese government of possible sanctions in a month.

The draft proposals, which were circulated to the 15 Security Council members last night, call for an arms embargo against rebels in the Darfur region, "including the Janjaweed" militias accused of ethnic cleansing on a massive scale.

Britain backs the proposals which are aimed at forcing the Sudanese government to rein in the Arab militias so that urgent humanitarian assistance can reach up to a million people forced from their homes.

But with the crisis worsening by the day with the onset of heavy rains, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, admitted that it would be an uphill struggle to obtain a unanimous vote soon.

"The aim of the resolution is to set a deadline for full co-operation," he said, adding that if the Sudanese government failed to satisfy the UN, "they will be left to face a range of options, including sanctions".

Arab council members are resisting a new round of "Arab-bashing" after the Iraq war, and the Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, yesterday warned Britain and America against sending troops to the southern region.

Responding to comments by Tony Blair, who said Britain had not ruled out sending military assistance to Sudan, Mr Ismail retorted: "You know what is going to happen?"

"(After) one or two months these forces are going to be considered by the people of Darfur as occupying forces and the same incidents which you are now facing in Iraq are going to be repeated in Darfur."

Mr Ismail, speaking in Paris, said that Sudan needed more time to meet its commitments, and that a UN Security Council resolution was not needed. "The increase in pressure from the United States and Great Britain is ... the same as the increase in pressure that they put against Iraq," he said.

Mr Straw made it clear that the threat of force was not yet on the table, even though the draft resolution is under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which provides for military enforcement. British officials cautioned that even "peace enforcement" in Sudan would require hundreds of thousands of troops.

The draft resolution warns Khartoum that if the government fails to "apprehend and bring to justice" the Janjaweed leaders and their associates accused of human rights atrocities, would face possible sanctions.

The unspecified measures against the Sudanese government would be discussed following a report to the Council by Kofi Annan on Sudanese compliance "in 30 days" following the adoption of the resolution.

Sudan has pledged to protect displaced civilians, disarm the Janjaweed and other armed groups, suspend visa and travel restrictions on relief workers and punish those responsible for atrocities.

But the UN is sceptical about measures announced so far by Khartoum. The draft resolution calls on the Sudanese government to "fulfil immediately" all its commitments, including the resumption of political talks with black African rebels and the establishment of "credible security conditions" for the protection of the civilian population.

The Foreign Office stressed that the effort was focused on easing the humanitarian crisis, and ensuring the monitoring of a ceasefire, by working with the African Union which is seen as the prime actor in the region.

But so far, the ceasefire agreed between the Muslim government in Khartoum and the black African rebels in the southwest has not been heeded.

The rebels yesterday held talks in Geneva with the African Union, and agreed to hold a further session. The arms embargo, if adopted by the Security Council, would also apply to the rebel groups.

The conflict began when the rebels took up arms in a dispute with Arab nomads over water and scarce resources in the impoverished region the size of France. The Janjaweed - who have documented close links to the Sudanese government - then went on the rampage, forcing more than a million people from their homes.

The UN estimates that the 15-month conflict has killed at least 30,000 people and displaced more than a million.

Mr Annan was due to hold talks last night with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who said he feared the conflict was "moving towards a genocidal conclusion" when the two officials visited earlier this month.

Mr Straw, who plans to fly to Sudan in three weeks' time, said "whether or not it comes within the legal definition of genocide, what's going on there is completely terrible and is completely unjustified".

He stressed that "the overwhelming responsibility is on the government of Sudan."

Mr Straw said he was pressing the EU to fund the African Union's monitoring mission, and also provide a team of civilians, and people with military expertise, to offer advice and support.

"We are discussing with EU partners what additional assistance we can provide, including practical advice and support to the AU mission, by sending an EU joint civilian-military team to the region to help the AU plan and mount an effective mission," he said.