Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, on Monday published excerpts of documents that it says implicate the Sudanese government in recruiting, equipping and guaranteeing impunity for the Arab militias accused of killing tens of thousands of Africans and driving more than 1 million from their homes in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The rights organization said the confidential government documents called on local Sudanese officials in February and March to recruit fighters for the militia known as the Janjaweed, to give them "provisions and ammunition," and to tolerate "minor" abuses of civilians. One document written by a local official in North Darfur asked security officials to permit the followers of a well-known Janjaweed leader, Sheik Musa Hilal, "to proceed" with their activities and to "secure their vital needs."
Human Rights Watch said another document outlined plans by the Sudanese government to resettle Arab nomads in land occupied by local rebels and villagers.
"These documents show that the government in Khartoum has been supportive of the militias as a matter of policy," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. "We don't believe this is the moment when patience should be exercised, this is the moment when pressure should be exercised."
Khartoum has denied that it supports the militia. It maintains that it is committed to ending their reign of terror, noting a decision to send police to Darfur to restore security. A Sudanese court Monday sentenced 10 Janjaweed fighters to six years in prison and to the amputation of one leg and one arm.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, is struggling to determine which diplomatic responses at the United Nations will be most effective in ending the violence.
U.S. diplomats here, responding to mounting international resistance, are considering abandoning their plan to seek immediate U.N. sanctions against the militias, according to U.S. and U.N. diplomats.
That plan, included in a draft resolution presented to Security Council members earlier this month, has been criticized by both critics and supporters of the Khartoum government. The critics argue that the sanctions are too weak to deter those responsible for atrocities in Darfur, while backers of the government say the provisions would undermine the U.N. effort to secure Khartoum's cooperation in resolving the crisis.
John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States would continue to hold out the threat of sanctions "down the road" against the Arab militias and its backers in the Sudanese government. But he said the ultimate goal of U.S. policy in Darfur is to ensure that Darfur's victims "are cared for."
That, he said, requires a more aggressive international relief effort and "maximum cooperation on the part of the government of Sudan to facilitate the delivery of food, medicines" and other relief supplies.
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, will brief the Security Council on his recent visit to Khartoum. He has been struggling to implement a July 3 accord between the United Nations and the Sudanese government aimed at guaranteeing access for international relief workers.
A statement issued Monday by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator said that while access had "improved" in Darfur, "air raids and attacks by the Janjaweed and Government-aligned militias" against civilians continued.
U.S. and U.N. diplomats said the U.S.-sponsored resolution, which is still being redrafted, would demand that Sudan increase access for relief workers, provide greater security for civilians in Darfur and arrest leaders of the militia. It probably will also include some implicit reference to the possibility of future sanctions against the government and the militias.
"What we're doing is to try to work with other countries to determine what sort of resolution would get the most support," Danforth said. "In any event, the resolution would be designed to put pressure on the government to fully cooperate with the relief effort."
The United States is facing growing international opposition to the possibility of sanctions. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of more than 50 Islamic governments, told the 15-nation council that "we should not rush" into imposing sanctions, and should allow more time to test Khartoum's commitment to crack down on the militias, according to Abdallah Baali, Algeria's U.N. ambassador.
The African Union and the Arab League, meanwhile, have also called on the Security Council to show restraint. "Sanctions are not the solution," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Monday.
"Most people are saying, 'Let's give them a chance and let's see whether they comply with their commitments,' " added Heraldo Munoz, Chile's U.N. ambassador.