Prague, 8 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. warning to Sudan demands that Khartoum immediately bring an end to militia attacks on villagers in Darfur and give humanitarian workers access to starving refugees there, or face possible UN sanctions.
The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, told reporters yesterday after a closed meeting of the Security Council that Washington wants to see results within days rather than weeks. Danforth said Security Council ambassadors will meet later today to discuss a U.S.-drafted resolution on Sudan so that sanctions can be imposed quickly if Khartoum is seen as dithering.
"The United States has circulated a draft resolution. We are convening the experts to examine the resolution, to be ready to go with the resolution. And, really then, the question is, what does the government of Sudan plan to do about it? And we are holding them accountable," Danforth said.
Some UN officials and human rights groups allege that the government of Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has backed the Janjaweed in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The situation also has been described as one of the world's worst ongoing humanitarian disasters. The UN says tens of thousands of villagers have been killed and more than 1 million displaced from their homes.
So far, no major Western or UN officials have publicly described the Darfur crisis as genocide -- a designation that would make UN action mandatory under international law. But UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after a visit last week to Khartoum and Darfur that the crisis appears to be "bordering on ethnic cleansing."
"What we wonder is whether the government of Sudan is just using more words, more promises, with a view that delay means more death." -- U.S. UN Ambassador Danforth
Sudan denies supporting militia groups or being involved in ethnic cleansing. In a joint communique with Annan last week, el-Bashir agreed to disarm the militias, investigate human rights abuses, and punish those found guilty of violations. The Sudanese president also promised to halt visa and travel restrictions that have prevented relief workers from reaching Darfur.
Danforth, who took up his post at the UN yesterday, had previously served as U.S. President George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan. He has been expressing skepticism about Khartoum's promises. "What we wonder is whether the government of Sudan is just using more words, more promises, with a view that delay means more death," he said. "And that's what it means."
The U.S.-draft resolution would impose an arms embargo and travel ban on Janjaweed militia leaders. It also calls for a report to be made to the Security Council after 30 days to determine if sanctions should be extended to include government officials.
Danforth says the United States is ready to be flexible about the precise language of the resolution. "The terms of the draft resolution are important. We're willing to discuss what should be in the draft resolution, of course, with other members of the Security Council," he said. "The real question isn't what words are in the draft resolution, but what does the government of Sudan do."
Ambassadors from other countries on the Security Council have welcomed the increased pressure on Sudan. Germany's UN ambassador, Guenter Pleuger, said the pledges made by el-Bashir last week should be incorporated into the resolution.
"The government [of Sudan] has made commitments. And I think these commitments should show up in the resolution as benchmarks. And if it does not heed it, then I think my delegation, at least, would be prepared to consider sanctions -- including an arms embargo -- not only against the Janjaweed [militia], but also against Sudan as a whole," Pleuger said.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said Sudan should be given more time to act on the promises made last week. But he said failure on Khartoum's part should result in sanctions. "A resolution has to take into account and adapt to what will happen on the ground," he said. "We have a commitment taken by the Sudanese government. Let's see what will happen, and if they don't implement the commitment they have taken, then the [Security] Council, I think, will be prepared to take action."
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland is one of the highest-ranking officials to describe the situation in Darfur as ethnic cleansing. But Egeland said there has been some progress made to address international concerns since he made those remarks during a visit to Darfur last month.
"We need to hold the government of Sudan accountable, but also the other armed groups. We still do not see the disarmament or the demobilization of the militia that is needed. We do, however, for the first time see access. Nongovernmental organizations that were prevented for many months from coming in, and other humanitarian colleagues, do now have access. I think there is very little time to monitor, and I am very glad that the Security Council is upholding its pressure on Sudan because that is necessary," Egeland said.
Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, told reporters yesterday that he thinks the increased pressure from both the UN and Washington will force the Sudanese government to implement its commitments. Pakistan's two-year status as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council ends in September.