(CNSNews.com) - The continuing carnage in Sudan's Darfur region is dragging on because of China's support for the Islamist government in Khartoum, according to Irish celebrity campaigner for Africa, Bob Geldof.
"The reason why it has not been resolved is because of China," the Associated Press quoted Geldof as saying in Athens on Monday.
"The Chinese protect the Khartoum government, who are killers, and they will not allow a vote in the [U.N.] Security Council," he said, attributing Beijing's stance to its oil ties with Sudan.
The characteristically candid Geldof, organizer of last year's Live 8 global charity event, was in the Greek capital to receive a humanitarian award.
Beijing's state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) owns 40 percent of Sudan's biggest oil operation. An estimated 6 to 7 percent of China's oil imports come from Sudan, a figure expected to rise as the industry expands after a two-decades-long civil war.
U.S. Department of Energy figures now place Sudan third in sub-Saharan Africa for crude oil production, behind Nigeria and Angola.
Since a conflict broke out in Darfur between government-sponsored militias and rebel groups three years ago, many thousands of people have perished and two million more have been displaced. The U.N. has described Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
As early as July 2004, veto-wielding member China was using its clout in the Security Council to ease international pressure on Khartoum.
Resistance from China -- together with fellow permanent council member Russia and several of the body's non-permanent members, notably Islamic Pakistan and Algeria -- resulted in the U.S. agreeing to drop the word "sanctions" from a draft resolution on Darfur.
In the end, the watered-down resolution was passed by a 13-0 vote. Although the sanctions reference had been removed, Beijing could still not support it because, China's envoy Zhang Yishan said, "it still included references to measures that were not helpful and which could further complicate the situation." China abstained, along with Pakistan.
In the 21 months since then, the death toll in Darfur has risen from some 30,000-50,000 to an estimated 180,000 today.
By February last year, the U.S. and European allies were still struggling to get China and Russia to agree to impose sanctions against Sudan. The State Department said at the time that those under discussion included oil sanctions, as well as an extension of an existing arms embargo, a freeze on assets and travel ban against specified individuals or government officials.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), a co-chairman of the bipartisan congressional human rights caucus, said at a press conference on Darfur that month that China and Russia had "repeatedly threatened to veto resolutions that could possibly bring an end to the violence."
Wolf, who has visited Sudan five times, is currently pressing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to appoint a special envoy to the country, to focus further attention on the Darfur issue.
Testifying before the congressional U.S.-China Commission last July, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa policy studies Princeton Lyman also linked China's Security Council stance to its oil dealings with Sudan.
"China had become its biggest [oil] customer," he said. "Meanwhile, China has successfully prevented the U.N. Security Council from serious sanctions or other preventive measures in face of the alleged genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Darfur region of that country."
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said in a major policy speech on China last September that it was time to urge a rising China to become "a responsible stakeholder" in the international system, for instance by using its considerable influence with such regimes as those ruling Sudan and Iran.
"China should take more than oil from Sudan - it should take some responsibility for resolving Sudan's human crisis," said Zoellick, who has himself traveled to the north-east African country four times over the past year.
Meanwhile, Beijing's relations with Khartoum appear to be strengthening.
Chinese defense minister Cao Gangchuan held talks with his Sudanese counterpart, Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, in Beijing two weeks ago, and said the People's Liberation Army was "ready to deepen the cooperation" with the Sudanese military.
Hussein, who was described as being on "an official goodwill visit," praised China's stance on the Darfur issue, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
At another meeting, a senior Chinese official thanked the Sudanese visitor for Khartoum's "firm support on major international issues, such as human rights."
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