European Union (search) foreign ministers agreed Monday to push for United Nations (search) sanctions against Sudan (search) if the country does not move to end the conflict in the Darfur (search) region.

In a statement citing their "grave concern, the EU ministers said they were "alarmed by reports of massive human rights violations" perpetrated by Arab militias, "including systematic rape of women."

"The risk is very high for a potential catastrophe," said EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

The foreign ministers said they "expect the government of Sudan to ensure that these violations stop with immediate effect" or the EU would take "appropriate further steps."

While not using the word "sanctions," EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the 25-member bloc would "likely" push for such a move by the U.N. Security Council.

The violence began 15 months ago when two rebel groups from Darfur's African tribes took up arms in a struggle over land and resources with Arab countrymen. Arab militias known as Janjaweed then began a brutal campaign to drive out the black Africans.

As many as 30,000 people, most of them black Africans, have been killed and more than 1 million people have fled their homes. Some 2.2 million are in urgent need of food or medical attention.

The 25-nation European Union, the United States and humanitarian groups have accused the Sudanese government of backing the militias — a claim it denies.

Last week, Congress declared the atrocities amounted to genocide, and urged the Bush administration to do the same. A U.N. convention obligates the international community to prevent and punish acts it has declared as genocide.

Backing its threat of sanctions, the EU said it was preparing "a list of Janjeweed leaders responsible for breaches and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and those guiding and supporting them."

The EU said the Sudanese government "will be pressed to arrest these persons or suspend them form office and to bring them to justice."

The 25 foreign ministers also urged Sudan to admit more aid workers to provide emergency food and shelter.

The United Nations plans to send a peacekeeping mission by the end of 2004 to Darfur, a region the size of Iraq with a population of 6.7 million.