The United States is pressuring China and Russia to accept U.N. Security Council sanctions against four Sudanese military and militia leaders accused of committing war crimes in Darfur. The identities of the four are being withheld while negotiations on the measure proceed.
The United States circulated a draft resolution Tuesday that would impose penalties on four of the more than 50 persons named on a still unpublished U.N. list of Darfur war crimes suspects. The penalties would include travel bans on the named individuals, and a freeze on their assets.
The four include a Sudanese Air Force general who formerly commanded troops in Darfur, two leaders of pro-government militias commonly known as janjaweed, and a commander of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army.
The names of the four were revealed to Security Council members, but were left out of the text of the resolution. A U.S. mission spokesman said the names were omitted in hopes of preventing the suspects from hiding their assets. But he admitted that the identities of the suspects have already been published in some media.
The resolution was circulated a day after Russia and China blocked a Security Council procedure that would have automatically imposed sanctions on the four. China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Beijing wants to wait for the outcome of talks in Abuja, Nigeria on ending the Darfur conflict.
"China believes this is not the right moment since the Abuja negotiations are underway and we expect progress there, so everything must be done to help the Abuja process," he said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov also said "We have to wait" to see the outcome of the Abuja process, where negotiators are working under an April 30 deadline for an agreement.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said he would push for a prompt vote on the sanctions resolution. He told reporters one purpose of the measure is to test the seriousness of Chinese and Russian objections. "We have felt for some time that the sanctions procedure was an important aspect of our policy, American policy toward Sudan, and Darfur in particular, and an important element of the Council's policy as well. So this well be, in effect, a test of the Council to see if the sanctions procedure is going to work at all," he said.
Bolton said he sees no reason for further delay, and told reporters the names of the persons facing sanctions would be revealed once the resolution is ready for passage.
Meanwhile, the chief African Union mediator on Darfur told the Security Council that agreement at the Abuja talks is, in his words "clearly within reach". Mediator Selim Ahmed Selim said the conflict, which has seen so much bloodshed an suffering, finally seems ripe for resolution".
"We are in the final stretch of the Darfur peace agreement. The mediation is ready, and we believe the time is right for the parties to move beyond arguments to decisions," he said.
At the same time, Selim warned that parties to the Abuja process have still not made significant concessions, or overcome deep suspicions of each other.
But the African Union mediator avoided questions about the wisdom of sanctions, saying they could have both positive and negative consequences.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Khartoum responded by backing Arab janjaweed militias who waged a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels and their civilian supporters.
The conflict has resulted in nearly 200,000 deaths over the past three years, most from hunger and disease. Two million others have been displaced, many of them living in refugee camps across the border in neighboring Chad.
The United States has provided more than one billion dollars in humanitarian aid and been a major financial backer of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.