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UN's Annan Says Darfur Like 'Hell on Earth'

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described Darfur as "little short of hell on earth", and urged the Security Council to take immediate action to stop the killing there. But the Council is deadlocked over the question of how to prosecute those responsible for Darfur's atrocities.

With human rights groups estimating as many as 10,000 people a month are dying in Sudan's Darfur region, the Secretary General leaded with the Security Council to act quickly to halt documented cases of war crimes. "The international community, led by this Council, must immediately find a way to halt the killing and protect the vulnerable," he said.

War broke out in Darfur two years ago when rebels launched an insurrection. They accuse Sudan's Arab-led government of ignoring the vast region's mostly black African population.

Khartoum responded by unleashing Arab tribal militias known as janjaweed for attacks on Darfur's villagers.

A U.N. appointed commission of inquiry last month found evidence of war crimes in Darfur bordering on genocide. Briefing the Security Council on the commission's report Wednesday, Mr. Annan blamed both sides for creating what he described as hellish conditions. "This report demonstrates, beyond all doubt, that the last two years have been little short of hell on earth for our fellow human beings in Darfur. And despite the attention of the Council and the attention the Council has paid to this crisis, that hell continues today," he said.

The Security Council this week began considering a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Sudan, including an arms embargo and a freeze on assets of war crimes suspects.

But the resolution faces what may be insurmountable hurdles. Several countries, including veto-wielding China, a major importer of Sudanese oil, have expressed strong opposition to sanctions.

Also, the U.S. draft is silent on the crucial issue of impunity, pointing up a bitter dispute over where those accused of war crimes should be tried.

European members of the Security Council are demanding that suspects be brought before the still untested International Criminal Court in the Hague. But the United States opposes the ICC, arguing that it could be used to bring frivolous charges against U.S. troops or political leaders.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour told the Council Wednesday that the ICC is the only credible way of bringing alleged perpetrators to justice. "Designed in part for the purpose of addressing crimes which threaten international peace and security, the ICC could be activated immediately. With an already existing set of well-defined rules of procedure and evidence, the Court is the best-suited institution for ensuring speedy investigations leading to arrests and demonstrably fair trials," he said.

In an attempt to break the impasse over the ICC, the United States has proposed using a tribunal set up in Tanzania to try Rwandan genocide cases.

European diplomats at the United Nations have given the U.S. proposal an icy reception, leaving open the possibility of a deadlock that could prevent the world body from intervening to stop the bloodshed in Darfur.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana was quoted Wednesday as saying he does not think any progress can be made.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Mr. Solana suggested it might be better to look for an alternative solution given that "sentiments are very profound in the United States that fellow citizens cannot be judged in a court that is not American".