The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over the question of how to stop the killing in Sudan's Darfur region and prosecute those accused of war crimes. Negotiations on a U.S.-backed resolution have been stalled for weeks, while estimates of the number of dead rise sharply.
The Security Council met Thursday to approve a one-week extension of an advance U.N. political mission to Sudan. The unanimous vote for what is known as a "rollover" was an admission of failure.
The advance mission's original mandate ran out a week ago. At that time, diplomats pledged to settle disputes that have prevented passage of a U.S.-drafted resolution that would - among other things - impose sanctions on perpetrators of war crimes in Darfur, and specify where they should be prosecuted.
Passage of a second rollover left diplomats seething. After the vote, French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere expressed his frustration at Council's inability to act while people in Darfur are dying.
"Time is running out. We need to adopt this resolution," he said. "And this is what I will say. I understand there will be a new rollover for some days. This will be the last one. And people should look at what was happening in Darfur. The situation in Darfur is bad."
In an attempt to break the impasse, African Union President, Nigerian Olusegun Obasanjo this week offered a compromise on one key sticking point, the issue of where to bring Darfur war crimes suspects to trial. The Nigerian proposal involves creation of a new African-run tribunal to hear Darfur war crimes cases.
Nine of the 15 Security Council members favor bringing perpetrators of Darfur's ethnic cleansing before the newly-created International Criminal Court in The Hague. The United States, however, does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and wants suspects brought before a tribunal set up in Tanzania to try Rwanda genocide cases.
Richard Grennell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said Washington's opposition to the ICC is firm, based on concerns that the court could be used to bring frivolous lawsuits against U.S. officials.
"This is an American people's concern, we are targets, we have been targets, so this is not something changeable through new negotiations," said Mr. Grennell. "Look at our Congress, at what Congress feels about this. It's been the long history that the American people and Congress have some real problems with the ICC."
U.S. diplomats have expressed interest in the Nigerian proposal as a way of breaking the deadlock. But British ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry, a strong proponent of bringing the Darfur cases to the Hague tribunal, scoffed at the idea.
"There must be lots of skepticism as to whether this is a practical alternative, and especially is it alternative that can command the respect of all parties in Sudan, and that I doubt very much indeed," he said.
The British ambassador suggested that support for bringing Darfur cases before the International Criminal Court is non-negotiable.
African diplomats on the Security Council, however, say the Nigerian proposal may provide a way around the impasse. Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali called it exactly the kind of approach African countries have been favoring for years.
"You have to prosecute those who have committed atrocities at the same time you have to promote reconciliation because people have to live together, and this applies to all countries in Africa who have been confronted with civil war, so from this regard, the proposal by Nigeria represents the ideal approach," said. Mr. Baali. "Now the fact that you are party to the ICC doesn't mean you have to fight for ICC to the death."
Ambassador Baali urged fellow Council members to look more closely at the Nigerian proposal before rejecting it.
The diplomatic wrangling comes as U.N. diplomats have increased their estimates of the number of people who have died in the two-years since war broke out in Darfur. The world body's humanitarian relief coordinator Jan Egeland said this week he believes at least 180,000 had died in the past 19 months alone. Previous estimates had been about 70,000.
The World Food Program says another 5.5 million Sudanese are in need of food assistance. At the same time, however, the United Nations this week pulled its staff out of some areas of western Darfur after receiving reports that pro-government militias were planning to attack foreigners.