Bush administration officials say the United States is prepared to impose sanctions against Sudan if it does not follow through on a stated commitment to allow an expanded peacekeeping force in the troubled Darfur region. However, they say U.N. member states have not yet pledged enough troops to put the Sudanese promise to the test. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The peacekeeping plan, originally approved by the U.N. Security Council last August and amended in November to accommodate Sudanese concerns, would replace the current 7,000-member African Union observer mission in Darfur with a "hybrid" United Nations and African Union force three times as large.
Under intense diplomatic pressure, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed in principle late last December to admit the new force in three phases.
But the process has not gone beyond the initial stage, raising concerns about the Sudanese leader's sincerity, and about the prospect of a renewed outbreak of Darfur violence if the over-stretched AU force is not upgraded.
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters here said the Bush administration has approved a plan for wide-ranging financial and other sanctions against the Khartoum government if it blocked the deployment.
Under the plan, first reported by the Washington Post newspaper Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury would block commercial bank transactions by the Khartoum government, including Sudanese oil deals that are largely dollar-based.
The official, who spoke on terms of anonymity, said the United States has also stationed military observers on Sudan's border with Chad as a signal to Khartoum not to let Darfur violence spill over into the neighboring country.
He said there would be a number of other punitive measures by the United States. But he stressed there will be no way to test Sudan's true intentions with regard to the force until AU and United Nations member countries commit the requisite number of troops and have them ready to move in.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States has mounted an intensive diplomatic effort to get potential contributing countries to step up and commit troops now.
"The member states of the U.N. need to now make the commitments of troops to that AU-U.N. force so that we can see if President Bashir will act on the commitments that he has made," he said. "Should he not do so, then we have a number of different options that are available to us, both as an individual country as well as an international system. I'm not going to get into any description of what those may be at this point, but we have a number of different levers at our disposal."
McCormack said at this point only about 40 logistics planners had been allowed into Darfur in the first phase of the three step process. Phase two would involve about 1,000 personnel to further lay groundwork for the third and final phase - deployment of some 20,000 troops and police, mainly from African countries.
It is understood there are firm commitments for only about half the troops required. Officials here say the recruitment process is being hampered by competing needs for African troops for a planned eight thousand troop stabilization force for Somalia.
The senior official said the unwillingness of countries to pledge Darfur troops was emboldening the Khartoum government, and he said the United States believes President Bashir has been lobbying fellow African leaders not to donate.
The current African Union force in Darfur is under-funded and lacks the mobility to adequately police the vast region.
The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which responded by backing Arab militias in a scorched earth campaign in the region.
The war has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and displaced at least two million others.