Russia Adds Voice to Concerns on Darfur

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council expressed "profound concern" at the upsurge in violence and worsening humanitarian situation in Darfur, and Russia called on members to consider sanctions against rebel groups that are challenging peace efforts.

The United States, Britain and France countered on Tuesday that any new sanctions would have to be balanced and target all those blocking progress toward an end to the 5-year conflict -- including the Sudanese government.

The council urged the government and rebels to observe a cease-fire, refrain from hostilities, and respect international law. It also urged "the speediest possible deployment" of a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur, whose main mission will be to protect civilians.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, read the statement after a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet.

He painted a grim picture of increasing violence, slow deployment of the joint African Union and United Nations force, and little progress toward a political settlement of the Darfur conflict, which has claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced 2.2 million people.

Also Tuesday, Russia and Serbia demanded that the UN administration in Kosovo halt the transfer of authority to the European Union, calling a handover illegal and declaring that they would never recognize the independence of the Serb province.

But the United States and Britain, who were among the first countries to recognize Kosovo after its Feb. 17 declaration of independence, said debates over whether Kosovo should secede were over and that it was now time to address the future of an independent Kosovo and an independent Serbia in Europe.

The EU is expected to take over the UN administration of Kosovo and has sent a mission to the capital, Pristina, to promote the rule of law and implement Kosovo's pledges under a plan for supervised independence. The UN-drafted plan was never approved by the Security Council because of Russian opposition, but it is supported by Washington and key EU nations.