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US: Arms-embargo violations hurt Darfur peace effort

United States ambassador Susan Rice warned on Thursday that recent fighting and “the blatant disregard” of a United Nations arms embargo in Darfur are undermining peace efforts in the region.

Heavy fighting between government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army erupted last week in central Darfur, according to rebel and UN officials, sending thousands of people fleeing from their homes and sorely testing the ceasefire signed days earlier between the government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement.

If the reports of a government military offensive are true, Rice said, it would “not suggest a new willingness on the part of Sudan to fully engage in the peace process”.

Rice called for a halt to the fighting and urged all rebel groups to cease military activity and sign on to the peace agreement.

The US envoy made her comments following a closed-door Security Council briefing on the implementation of sanctions against Sudan.

In November, a UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions reported that the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur refused to abandon the military option and were increasingly violating the arms embargo.

Rice said that she criticised Security Council members during the closed-door session for failing to take action on any of the panel’s recommendations.

“We want this committee to be active and engaged and to shine a spotlight on sanctions violations” by working with the government, the parties to the conflict and governments in the region “to end what have been cavalier violations of this sanctions regime”, Rice said.

This would improve conditions on the ground, limit the flow of arms into Darfur “and do much to protect civilians who remain at grave risk”, she said.

Deeply divided
The 15-member Security Council — and the sanctions committee that includes all members — are deeply divided on the issue of sanctions against Sudan.

Sudan’s allies, Russia and China, both veto-wielding council members, are reluctant to impose or enforce sanctions against Sudan.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect. Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing militias known, as the janjaweed, on civilian populations — a charge the government denies.

UN officials say at least 300 000 people have lost their lives from violence, disease and displacement, and 2,7-million have been driven from their homes.

The Security Council initially imposed an arms embargo on rebels and the janjaweed in Darfur and in March 2005 extended the embargo to include Sudan’s government. — Sapa-AP

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