BERLIN: The European Union has failed to find a firm action plan that could help prevent killings in the Darfur region of Sudan.

As German deputy foreign minister Kerstin Muller sees it, the suffering continues because the Sudanese government and the rebels in Darfur are unwilling to search for a political solution, and because the international community lacks the determination to end the conflict.

Germany wants the EU to impose sanctions against key players in the conflict. That will include freezing their financial assets and restricting their travel. But EU members remain divided over this proposal. Some countries such as Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria support this approach, but others like France and Britain want sanctions only if approved by the United Nations Security Council.

A third group of countries, mainly Italy, Spain and Poland do not want to see sanctions of any kind.

Ulrich Delius, Africa expert with the German non-governmental organization Society for Threatened Peoples said that "hindering some Sudanese politicians from entering the EU may be a nice gesture, but the only efficient tool is an oil embargo." The Sudanese government will not take the demands of the international community seriously if it faced no powerful threat, he said.

As politicians quarrel about sanctions, human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a robust force to stop the violence.

UN chief emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said at a press briefing last month that "the world believes that we keep people alive and then they don't have to take political and security action. This is wrong and that's why we are really tired of being that kind of substitute for political and security action."

The number of people affected by the conflict is growing every day, he pointed out. Many aid workers in Darfur too have been abducted and killed. Several relief organizations have already withdrawn from Sudan..

Jan Pronk, UN special representative for Sudan told a panel discussion in Berlin last week that peace negotiations must be delinked from the security situation on the ground. Negotiations were being paralyzed by the violence, he said.

A mission from the African Union (AU) at present monitors a ceasefire agreement with no more than 1,800 soldiers in an area as big as France - a little more than ten percent of the number of police officers in Berlin.

"There should be a robust third force as a buffer," Pronk said. At least 8,000 soldiers are needed, he said. "And that means the AU should do it this month; if not, others will have to put their people where their mouth is." He was referring to European countries and the United States who have been criticising the Sudanese government.

Muller said this was not feasible. "For me it is hardly imaginable to tell the AU right from the beginning that they cannot do it, if they are talking about a test case in which they try to solve their own conflicts."

Lotte Leicht, director of the Brussels office of Human Rights Watch, argued at the panel discussion that the AU had failed to protect the people in Darfur. The AU should accept help from the EU, she said. "I have never seen that 25 foreign ministers are almost down on their knees, begging the AU to take more help from the EU."

More than 50,000 people have died since the crisis in Darfur began early 2003. The violence has driven more than 1.5 million people to refugee camps. At least another 200,000 fled to neighbouring Chad.

Pronk said that the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia it had backed had stopped open cooperation. But they remain linked, he said. "And the result is (ethnic) cleansing, and that has to stop."

A UN report published February, identifies more than 50 persons it says committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity. It recommended prosecution of these men by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The report stopped short of calling the atrocities genocide, but concluded that the crimes committed in Darfur "may be no less serious and heinous than genocide."

The Europeans now jointly back the recommendation of the report to refer the crimes to the ICC, but the issue has brought disagreement within the UN Security Council, with the United States strongly opposed to a role for the ICC.

Bringing in the ICC would mean taking the second step before the first, Delius said. The urgent need was to end the violence, he said, and prosecution could come later. "It seems as if politicians want to bring the ICC question to the forefront in order to present an image of being active."

Chinese oil interests are a problem in the Security Council, Delius said.. Both China and Russia oppose sanctions against the Khartoum regime, which is a major oil source.

Pronk recently proposed a 1.5 billion dollar relief plan for the whole of Sudan, and got commitments for just eight percent of what he had asked for. "There is a lot of hypocrisy in European politics," he said.-Dawn/The InterPress News Service.