UN Security Council approves sanctions on four participants in Darfur conflict

The U.N. Security Council voted Tuesday to slap sanctions on four men involved in the Darfur conflict, the first-ever such penalties imposed in the violence.

China and Russia initially opposed the sanctions but in the end chose to abstain instead of casting vetoes that would have killed them. Qatar also abstained, saying it did not see enough evidence that the four men were involved.

The four who face sanctions are accused of helping orchestrate and carry out killings, rape and other rights abuses in Darfur.

Diplomats from Britain, France and the United States described the sanctions as a new way to exert new pressure on the warring parties in the conflict, which shows little sign of abating even though peace negotiations are underway in Abuja, Nigeria.

They said the sanctions could add new impetus to those talks. The British and Americans suggested they might push for more such measures later, though other council members were far more cautious.

"The council's reputation is at stake and we believe this will actually help the Abuja process to demonstrate that impunity cannot be allowed to continue," Britain's Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry said.

Last week, the top U.N. humanitarian official said the relief effort in Darfur region could collapse within weeks unless foreign donors contribute more money and the government eases restrictions that have slowed aid workers.

The conflict between rebels and government-backed militias has caused about 180,000 deaths  most from disease and hunger and displaced 2 million people.

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.

China and Russia feared that the sanctions could complicate Darfur peace talks. The African Union and the Security Council have demanded that an accord be reached by April 30.

Diplomats said they dropped their objections, however, after African nations expressed support for the sanctions, reports AP.

O.Ch.