China, Russia block UN action on Sudan

Piled onto pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (pictured June 5, 2019) are seen by some protesters as a new version of the infamous Janjaweed militias accused of horrific abuses in Darfur (AFP Photo/-) (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - China, backed by Russia, blocked a bid at the UN Security Council on Tuesday to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and issue a pressing call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, diplomats said.

During a closed-door council meeting, Britain and Germany circulated a press statement that would have called on Sudan's military rulers and protesters to "continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis," according to the draft seen by AFP.

But China firmly objected to the proposed text while Russia insisted that the council should await a response from the African Union, diplomats said.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the proposed statement was "unbalanced" and stressed the need to be "very cautious in this situation."

"We don't want to promote an unbalanced statement. It could just spoil the situation," Polyanskiy told reporters after the two-hour meeting.

The council met a day after nearly 40 people were killed when security forces ended a weeks-long sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum by protesters demanding an end to military rule.

Army ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced Tuesday that he was scrapping a plan for a three-year transition period and would hold elections within nine months.

After the council failed to agree, eight European countries said in joint statement that they "condemn the violent attacks in Sudan by Sudanese security services against civilians".

Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands and Sweden said the military council's "unilateral announcement to cease negotiations, appoint a government and call for elections within a too short period of time is of great concern."

"We call for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan," said the European statement.

- African Union in the lead -

The council met at the request of Britain and Germany to hear a briefing from UN envoy Nicholas Haysom, who has been working with the African Union on a solution to the crisis.

Haysom told reporters that he "hadn't given up hope that a solution is possible."

Council diplomats looked to a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on Wednesday to provide a response to the crisis.

UN diplomats said the council could revisit the issue and try to agree on a common stance.

"We need urgently a return to the negotiating table," said German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen ahead of the meeting. "Legitimacy cannot come from the barrel of a gun."

The military council has ruled the country since the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir on April 11, following months of protests against his three-decade authoritarian rule.

Negotiations between the military rulers and protest leaders broke down over disagreements on whether a planned transitional body would be headed by a civilian or a military figure.