UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday voted to slap sanctions on four men involved in the Darfur conflict, the first-ever such penalties imposed on people who have taken part in the violence.
China and Russia had initially opposed the sanctions but in the end chose to abstain instead of casting vetoes. Qatar also abstained, saying it did not see enough evidence that the four men were involved.
The Chinese and Russian ambassadors feared that the sanctions could complicate Darfur peace talks underway in Abuja, Nigeria. The African Union and the Security Council have demanded that an accord be reached by this Sunday.
But they were appeased with a statement from the council, agreed to before the vote, expressing support for the talks. According to the statement, the council "urges the parties to make speedy progress in concluding a Darfur peace accord."
The four men who face sanctions are a former commander of the Sudanese air force's western region; a militia leader who is accused of allowing some of the worst atrocities; and two rebel commanders.
The sanctions are the first imposed by the U.N. Security Council since it adopted a resolution in March 2005 authorizing an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals who defy peace efforts, violate international human rights law, or are responsible for military overflights in Darfur.
"This resolution demonstrates that the Security Council is serious in its efforts to restore peace and security in the region," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "We regret that the vote today was not unanimous but we do not think it will deter the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibility."
Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in the Darfur region erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 when ethnic African tribes took up arms, accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglect.
The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed to murder and rape civilians and lay waste to villages — a charge it denies.
The conflict has caused about 180,000 deaths — most from disease and hunger — and displaced 2 million people.