The United States is asking the U.N. Security Council to step up pressure on Sudan to protect civilians in Darfur. A new U.S.-sponsored draft resolution threatens sanctions against the Khartoum government if it fails to comply.

Security Council consultations are to be held Thursday on a U.S.-drafted resolution expanding the U.N. mandate in Darfur. The draft circulated to Council members holds out the possibility of penalties affecting Sudan's lucrative petroleum sector.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday said the threat of pocketbook penalties is one of several measures designed to increase pressure on Sudan to disarm pro-government militias accused of atrocities in Darfur.

"We have more specific mention of sanctions that relate to the petroleum sector and individuals," Mr. Holliday says. "There is also of course an important element that deals with a commission of inquiry that would look into holding people accountable for actions in the past, and provisions about flights by the Sudanese military which should be banned."

The commission of inquiry would be set up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "determine whether acts of genocide have occurred in Darfur". The Secretary-General would be required to report every 30 days on his findings.

The draft resolution outlines steps Sudan must take to control the so-called Janjaweed militias, which are accused of carrying out a systematic campaign of killing and raping Darfur villagers and destroying their homes. The draft also urges the Khartoum government to accept an expanded African Union monitoring force in the vast region.

U.S. diplomats say Washington remains hopeful that the threat of sanctions can survive the negotiating process. Several Council members, including Pakistan and Algeria, as well as veto-wielding members China and Russia have expressed reservations about imposing penalties on the Sudanese government.

China and Pakistan are among countries importing Sudanese oil.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador, John Danforth, last week accused Sudan of using attack helicopters against Darfur villagers. He criticized U.N. officials, saying they were wrong to suggest that Sudan's government should have a say in deciding whether to increase the size of the international force in Darfur.

Ambassador Danforth said the people of Darfur have no confidence that the Khartoum government would protect them.

Janjaweed militia attacks have left much of the Darfur region in ruins. Tens of thousands of residents of the remote region have died in the past 18 months, and another 1.2 million people have fled their homes in what U.N. officials have described as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.