On Monday, the European Union's foreign ministers urged the United Nations to conduct an inquiry into allegations of genocide in Sudan, renewing the threat of sanctions for the African country.
Displaced Sudanese women carry firewood to a refugee camp
The EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, also threatened to impose sanctions against the Sudanese government if it didn't take action to disarm militias in the Darfur region, where over a million people have been displaced and thousands killed by fighting.
At the same time, the EU welcomed humanitarian progress in the region, which has seen the successful delivery of food to refugees. However, security remains a "major challenge," the ministers said.
With the UN estimating that more than 50,000 Sudanese have been killed and another 1.2 million forced from their homes since February 2003, the EU foreign ministers expressed their concern over a situation others believe to be genocide.
But the word "genocide" was not uttered in public comments made by any of the ministers. They know labelling the situation will determine their course of action -- and not all the bloc's governments are ready to take the steps required by UN obligations to stop genocide wherever it occurs.
"A desperate situation"
When asked by reporters about US Secretary of State Colin Powell's description of the situation as "genocide," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said some had called it "genocide, ethnic cleansing or civil war". But regardless of the label, he said, "it's a desperate situation which requires the urgent attention of the world."
As it calls for the UN to investigate the genocide claims, the EU is also exerting pressure on Sudan to rein in its militias and threatening sanctions if it doesn't.
"The government of Sudan needs to understand that the prospect (of sanctions) will come much closer and turn into a reality unless we see much better cooperation on the crucial issues of law and order and safety in Darfur," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer , left, and the Sudanese Foriegn Minister Mostafa Osman Ismail in Khartoum on July 12, 2004.
Germany's Joschka Fischer also pressed for Sudan to do more. "Above all, the pressure should not let-up now," he told reporters. "There has been progress, but it has not been fully implemented in particular parts." Earlier, Fischer said pressure from the international community had prevented a greater tragedy than the current "humanitarian catastrophe with genocidal potential."
The pressure was first exerted in July when EU ministers agreed with a UN resolution demanding the Sudanese government disarm the pro-government Janjaweed militia, try militia members for their crimes and protect the Darfur population.
Some EU states call for stronger action
While Germany, France and the Britain would like to join in the United States' call for UN sanctions against Khartoum, political pressure is the best they can do at the moment because of hesitance from Italy, Spain and Greece. They would rather see the union reinforce its opposition, a move that others think would play into the Sudanese government's hands.
"I have the feeling that the government of Sudan is at the moment laughing at us, at the international community," said Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Darfur. "They know how to read the contradictory signs that were given by the international community in dealing politically with this issue."