Sudan seeks Arab help in avoiding sanctions


Sudan sought Arab help today to head off possible sanctions threatened by the United Nations if Khartoum fails to rein in marauding militiamen accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing in its western Darfur region.

Sudan has about three weeks left to show the UN Security Council it is serious about disarming the Janjaweed militia or face possible sanctions. Darfur rebels says Khartoum backs Janjaweed attacks to drive non-Arab villagers off their land.

Sudan's Foreign Minister Mr Mustafa Osman Ismail said Khartoum was seeking political support from Arab ministers, due to meet at the Arab League in Cairo, "which will lead to the halting of any attempts to target Sudan or issuing sanctions against it."

The Cairo-based Arab League has said the threat of sanctions will not help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where the UN says fighting has killed 50,000, displaced one million and made two million short of food and medicine.

"The government has demonstrated recently its willingness and its commitment to work for the resolution of this conflict. We want to encourage them, not antagonise them," Arab League spokesman Mr Hossam Zaki said referring to the sanctions threat.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mr Ahmed Aboul Gheit, which agreed plan with the U.N. to tackle the humanitarian crisis and disarm the militia, was proving its credibility.

Mr Samir Hosni, director of African-Arab cooperation at the League, said the foreign ministers would discuss how to help Khartoum implement the U.N. resolution, which also demands that the government prosecute the Janjaweed leaders.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Arab League to put pressure on Sudan's government, not protect it.

"Allowing the Sudanese government to hide its crimes behind Arab solidarity would be an insult to more than one million Muslim victims in Darfur," said Mr Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the group's Africa division.

"The Arab League should stand behind the victims in Darfur and take concrete steps to ensure that civilians are protected from further crimes," he said in a statement.