The United States is proposing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose an arms embargo and travel ban on Sudanese "Janjaweed" militiamen, who are blamed for widespread human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing in Sudan's western Darfur region. The United States began circulating the draft resolution as Secretary of State Colin Powell was completing a mission to Sudan, including a dramatic visit to a Darfur refugee camp.
Officials here said the move at the United Nations was not based on anything Mr. Powell heard in his talks with Sudanese leaders, but rather a growing sense of urgency about the humanitarian situation in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the regional conflict are facing starvation.
The U.S. draft calls on the government of Sudan to immediately fulfill public commitments it has made to "disarm and neutralize" its Janjaweed militia allies, who have been using scorched-earth tactics since last year in a campaign against local rebels in Darfur.
It calls for an embargo on all arms aid and logistical support for the Janjaweed, and a ban on international travel by its members. It would set up a Security Council committee within 30 days to draw up a list of persons would be subject to the travel sanctions.
The United States has been considering its own sanctions against Janjaweed leaders and reportedly had been reluctant to take the issue to the Security Council because of opposition by some countries including China, Pakistan and Algeria.
At a news briefing, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli suggested that resistance may have diminished amid new evidence of what he termed a "human rights and humanitarian catastrophe" in Darfur, and that initial soundings on the resolution by U.S. diplomats have been encouraging.
"The sense that we've gotten, having seen what's going on in Darfur, having had extensive conversations with the government, having had extensive consultations with the African Union, with the EU, with the Secretary-General who is very much involved in this, is that there is a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportions, time is of the essence, and that it is incumbent upon all of us who want to bring relief to the people of Sudan to act. And it is in that spirit that we are putting forward this resolution," he said.
The U.S. draft speaks of sanctions only against the militiamen. But Mr. Ereli would not rule out the possibility that the Security Council's sanctions committee might also recommend penalties against Sudanese officials found to be working with the Janjaweed.
The Sudanese government denies helping the militias. But U.S. officials say Janjaweed is armed by the Khartoum government, and has received air support from the Sudanese military in its operations against Darfur rebels and civilians perceived as supporting them.
U.S. officials say the attacks by the Arab militiamen against black African civilians in Darfur amounts to ethnic cleansing, and the State Department is examining whether they fit the technical definition of genocide.
The U.S. draft says over two million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance and that with the arrival of the rainy season distribution efforts will become "increasingly difficult." Without urgent action, the draft warns, "hundreds of thousands of people will die."