France Corners U.S. on Sudan

UNITED NATIONS -- France put the United States in a tight spot on Wednesday by calling a vote on a measure referring perpetrators of atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region to the International Criminal Court, which Washington rejects.

The French draft, expected to be brought up in the UN Security Council on Thursday afternoon, would also exclude nationals of any state that had not ratified the treaty setting up the Hague-based court -- including American citizens -- from prosecution for participating in any UN operation in Sudan.

The United States, which on Tuesday split its draft resolution on Sudan into three parts in an effort to break a Security Council deadlock on Sudan, decided to seek a vote Thursday only on the part authorizing 10,000 peacekeepers for southern Sudan, which was virtually assured of passage.

That would delay action on the two other resolutions dealing with Darfur: one offering three options for prosecuting Darfur atrocities and one seeking sanctions targeting government and rebel leaders involved in fighting there.

Diplomats said as many as 10 of the council's 15 members could end up backing the French draft.

That would leave Washington with an unpalatable choice. It could either abstain, and thus let a measure go through that it has vowed to oppose, or veto it, preventing a crackdown on what the United States says is a genocide by the only tribunal able to start an immediate investigation.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere insisted Paris did not intend to force Washington into an embarrassing veto. "The Security Council -- and we're one of those with a very strong position on this issue -- says it is absolutely essential to act against impunity," de La Sabliere told French radio RFI. "It's essential because the victims need justice, but also because it is the best way to prevent further crimes. We had to act now, and France has shouldered its responsibilities today."

After closed-door talks, council members said Russia, China and Algeria appeared to back the U.S. approach. The nine council members that have ratified the ICC treaty -- Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Britain, Denmark, France, Greece, Romania and Tanzania -- expressed support for the French draft. Japan and the Philippines were uncertain, they said.

The ICC, the world's first permanent tribunal for genocide, war crimes and mass human rights violations, was recommended as the best place to try Darfur suspects by an international commission set up at the council's request.

But the Bush administration proposed a new UN-African Union tribunal as an alternative. Nigeria, president of the African Union, then suggested a special panel to both hear war crimes cases and foster reconciliation in Sudan.

U.S. President George W. Bush wants nothing to do with the ICC, fearing U.S. officials and soldiers serving abroad could be targets of politically motivated prosecutions.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a two-year-old rebellion against the government in Darfur.

Thousands are dying every month in miserable camps that house nearly 2 million people who have fled their homes after attacks by Arab militias, which at times have been government-backed.

The U.S. peacekeeping resolution would authorize a UN mission to monitor an accord ending a separate 21-year civil war between the Khartoum government and rebels in south Sudan.