Bush gets tough with Sudan over Darfur

The United States slapped fresh sanctions on Sudan over the Darfur conflict on Tuesday as it seeks a tough new United Nations Security Council resolution to punish Khartoum.

Expressing frustration with the Sudanese government over the plight of Darfur civilians, US President George Bush said: “The Department of Treasury is tightening US economic sanctions on Sudan.”

The president said the US will “more aggressively enforce existing sanctions against Sudan’s government” and pursue a new UN Security Council resolution against Khartoum.

“For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hand of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians,” Bush said. “My administration has called these actions by their rightful name—genocide.”

China, one of Sudan’s main allies, criticised the sanctions even before they were officially announced by Bush. Britain, however, welcomed the plan.

Bush singled out Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he outlined the sanctions, accusing him of failing to disarm militias. “His actions over the past few weeks follow a long pattern of promising cooperation or finding new methods of obstruction,” Bush said.

The stricter sanctions will bar another 31 companies, including oil exporters, from US trade and financial dealings, and take aim at two top Sudan government officials, they said.

China said new sanctions will only complicate the crisis in Darfur, where more than 200 000 people have died and more than two million have fled their homes in the past four years, according to UN figures.

“These wilful sanctions and simply applying pressure is not conducive to solving the problem,” said Liu Guijin, China’s special representative on Darfur. “It will only make achieving a solution more complicated.”

However, Liu stopped short of saying China would use its Security Council veto power to block the Bush administration’s plans for an accompanying UN resolution that would place further pressure on the Khartoum regime.

“I don’t think we have come to that stage,” he told reporters.

China, which supplies arms to Sudan and buys more than half of the African state’s oil output, is also faced with pressure from European nations over Darfur. France has proposed opening a humanitarian corridor through Chad to bring relief to victims of the Darfur conflict.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has discussed the proposal with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at a meeting of Asian and European foreign ministers in Hamburg, Germany.

“We are mulling several options, including securing a humanitarian corridor from Chad,” Kouchner told reporters after the talks.

Kouchner said he has also discussed the French proposal with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday.

Britain came out in support of the new US sanctions.

“We welcome any moves from the US and others in adding to the pressure on President al-Bashir because what is happening in Sudan is not acceptable by any international standards,” a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said shortly before the prime minister headed off on a tour of Africa.

“We believe that Sudan agrees to things under pressure from the international community, then backtracks at a later stage,” he added. “We need to maintain that pressure.”

US officials expressed guarded optimism that the new US measures would compel Sudan to accept the deployment of a hybrid UN-African Union force, end support for the Janjaweed militias in Darfur, and let humanitarian aid reach the region.

Washington is also campaigning to win support for a new UN resolution, including efforts to overcome possible Chinese resistance, one top US official said.

It wants a new UN resolution to apply new multilateral financial sanctions against Sudan and three newly targeted individuals, and expand an existing arms embargo from individuals operating in Darfur to any sales to Sudan’s government, a US official told reporters.

It would also impose UN measures to prevent the Khartoum government “from conducting any military flights over Darfur”, the official said.

The violence erupted in the western Sudanese region in 2003 when Khartoum enlisted the Janjaweed Arab militia to help put down an ethnic minority rebellion.

The Sudanese government, which says only 9 000 people have died in Darfur, has repeatedly rejected plans to deploy UN troops alongside the African peacekeepers in a joint force numbering about 23 000 soldiers.

French diplomats said that if a humanitarian corridor was agreed, it would be carried out by an international force with a UN mandate, could include French troops stationed in Chad, Sudan’s western neighbour, and would operate with the help of about 7 000 AU troops in Darfur.

Bush warned al-Bashir five weeks ago that he had one “last chance” to comply with international demands.—Sapa-AFP

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