Home | News    Sunday 25 July 2004

Europe raises pressure on Sudan ahead of meeting

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By Nick Antonovics

BERLIN, July 25 (Reuters) - Germany and the United States agreed to keep up pressure on Sudan on the eve of a meeting where European ministers will discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed in a telephone conversation that pressure must be maintained on Sudan’s government to end a conflict that has already killed some 30,000 people.

They agreed "sanctions will be unavoidable if the government does not meet its self-set commitments in Darfur," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In an interview with ZDF television to be broadcast on Sunday, Fischer said a U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution threatening sanctions was one way to put pressure on Khartoum to quell violence which has displaced over a million people.

U.N. Security Council members China and Russia have held up the resolution because they object to the threat of sanctions.

Western observers said on Sunday rebels in west Sudan are obstructing efforts to stop fighting in the expectation that the plight of thousands of refugees will force the international community to intervene.

Attempts to reach a political solution in Sudan’s arid western Darfur region stumbled last week when the two rebel groups refused to take part in talks after the government turned down six preconditions.

At least one of the only two EU countries with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council appeared keen to step up the pressure.

Britain ratcheted up the discourse on Saturday when its top military commander said he could muster 5,000 troops for a Darfur mission. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has not ruled out military intervention.

Blair has called on the international community to take moral responsibility for resolving the crisis and is sending Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to the region next month.

France, which used its permanent Security Council seat to scupper a U.N. resolution authorising war against Iraq last year, plans to send Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on a three day African trip that includes Darfur and is meant to show support for a planned African Union mission.

Current European Union president, The Netherlands, offered Sudan a cautious warning to stick to commitments to disarm the so-called Janjaweed Arab militias accused of pursuing a scorched earth policy that the U.S. Congress has labelled genocide.

As aid agencies already caring for some 180,000 refugees in Chad braced for an influx of hundreds of thousands more, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot told his Sudanese counterpart that sanctions were not yet needed, but he said the international community would eventually impose them if Khartoum did not act.

"It’s true that there is an improvement (in Darfur), but it isn’t enough ... If the situation does not visibly improve, then sanctions will almost surely be brought by the international community," Dutch news agency ANP quoted Bot as saying.

Bot met Sudan’s Mustafa Osman Ismail a day after EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the Sudanese minister his country must act immediately against the Janjaweed militias, which have driven black Africans into the harsh conditions of the barren desert.

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