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UN Security Council in talks on Darfur war crimes agreement

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 (AFP) — UN Security Council diplomats were holding last-minute talks to avoid a US veto against a French resolution to refer war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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An African Union (AU) peace keeper shows injuries on a former detainee, allegedly inflicted by Sudanese forces, after a prisoners release at a AU compound in el-Fasher in the Darfur region. (AFP).

A vote was tentatively scheduled for Thursday afternoon in New York, but diplomats said that could still be postponed by the fractious council, which has been deadlocked on the issue for months.

The question of a referral to the ICC, which the United States opposes, is so sensitive that negotiations have been taking place directly between national capitals.

Diplomats said the United States had proposed changes to the French draft that would broaden exemption for US nationals to prosecution by the ICC, which Washington fears could entertain politically motivated lawsuits.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with her British and French counterparts, Jack Straw and Michel Barnier, about the matter, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he hoped a deal could be agreed.

“We’re trying to find a way to do that,” Boucher said, refusing to firmly commit Washington to a veto. “We are now seriously considering the French resolution.”

At the United Nations, a European diplomat on the council said they were trying “very hard” to find a way to accommodate the US requests, so that the long-delayed issue could be resolved.

Rights groups say Sudanese government leaders have indicated that they take the threat of being hauled before the ICC very seriously, and that the resolution could help bring an end to the Darfur bloodshed.

For the United States, a veto could carry political fallout after Washington pushed to bring the Darfur atrocities to worldwide attention and called them a “genocide.”

It has originally proposed setting up an ad-hoc tribunal for Darfur in Tanzania, an idea that won scant council support.

The 15-member council voted unanimously last week to approve a 10,000-strong peace force for southern Sudan to monitor the January accord that ended the country’s 21-year north-south civil war.

But there have been disagreements on how to handle Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where a new report on Wednesday said an estimated 300,000 people have died from a separate conflict between rebels and government-backed militias.

The council voted 12-0 to slap new sanctions on Sudan over Darfur but the United States could not get unanimous support as Algeria, China and Russia abstained.

The resolution allows for the seizure of assets and a travel ban against individuals who commit atrocities, impede the peace process in Darfur or “constitute a threat to stability” in the region.

Violence in Darfur exploded when rebels in the western Sudanese region rose up against the government in February 2003.

The government put down the rebellion with the help of proxy militias known as Janjaweed.

A commission of enquiry in January said government forces and the militias had committed gross human rights violations, including the killing of civilians, torture, rape and pillaging.

Rebel forces may also be guilty of violations, the commission said.

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