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France postpones vote on Sudan accountability

3/25/2005 8:01am

By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25, 2005 (AP) -- France announced Wednesday it would delay submitting a draft resolution on prosecuting Sudanese war crimes suspects before the International Criminal Court, avoiding a showdown with the United States for now.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said he decided not to seek a vote becuase "some delegations" wanted more time to consider it, and it would probably be submitted next week. The United States opposes the ICC, and has threatened to veto the document.

Other diplomats said that because of the Easter holiday, they had not received instructions from their home nations on how to vote.

In the meantime, the Security Council was expected to approve a U.S.-backed resolution later Thursday to deploy peacekeepers to Sudan.

There is broad agreement for that plan, which would send a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to Sudan to monitor a peace accord that ended a 21-year civil war between the government and southern rebels.

The Security Council has been deadlocked for weeks on the issue of holding people accountable in Sudan, and that has held up all action on trying to end a conflict in the country's western Darfur region that is unrelated to the civil war. The number of dead from fighting between government-backed militias and rebels in Darfur is now estimated at 180,000.

On Tuesday, the United States circulated three Sudan resolutions -- the one authorizing a peacekeeping force, another imposing sanctions, and a third tackling the issue of where to punish those responsible for atrocities.

The United States had said a vote on the accountability issue would have to be put off because of the divisions in the council over the court. But France, Britain and others were determined to handle the issues at once.

France's resolution would refer Darfur cases since July 1, 2002, to the International Criminal Court. That was the recommendation of a U.N. panel that had found crimes against humanity -- but not genocide -- occurred in Darfur.

The France resolution says that citizens of countries that have not ratified the treaty establishing the ICC who take part in operations in Sudan wouldn't be subject to prosecution by the court.

That's a nod to the United States, which is not party to the court and objects to the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal in part because it fears its citizens could face politically motivated prosecutions.

Some diplomats said it now appeared likely that the United States would abstain from voting and let the resolution pass, but otheres were less certain.

A U.S. veto could give the appearance that the United States opposed the punishment of those responsible for atrocities in Darfur. The United States itself has declared genocide occurred in Darfur and demanded swift action.

But the United States has given no indication that it would do anything to legitimize the court, which an abstention could do.

The resolution on sanctions, which would extend an arms embargo already in force in Darfur for both black African rebel groups and the Janjaweed to include Sudan's government. It would also impose a travel ban and asset freeze against those who block peace efforts and threaten stability in Darfur.

Diplomats said it's still unclear whether Beijing or Moscow would veto the sanctions resolution, and no date has been set for a vote.

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