UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Wednesday renewing an arms embargo and other sanctions imposed over violence in Sudan's western Darfur region that began in 2004.
Thirteen of the 15 council members voted for the resolution. Russia and China abstained, arguing that the Darfur conflict is largely over.
The resolution also extends the mandate of the U.N. panel of experts monitoring the arms embargo and travel ban and asset freeze on certain individuals. It now runs until March 12, 2024.
Last month, Sudan demanded that the Security Council immediately lift all sanctions imposed during the Darfur conflict. Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Al-Harith Idriss Mohamed, said in a letter to the council that "Darfur has, for the most part, overcome the state of war, as well as previous security and political challenges."
The Sudanese government has repeatedly urged the council to lift sanctions, but Mohamed's letter was much stronger, saying that "Sudan will accept nothing less than the immediate lifting of these sanctions without conditions or benchmarks."
The resolution adopted Wednesday rejects Sudan's demands.
The Security Council voted "to reaffirm and renew" the arms embargo and other sanctions until Sept. 12, 2024. The resolution said the council will "make a decision regarding their further renewal no later than Sept. 12, 2024."
The council also said it intends to review the sanctions no later than Feb. 12, 2024, for their possible modification, suspension or gradual lifting.
It said this will be done in light of the government's progress on two benchmarks and related targets outlined in a July 31, 2021, report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The two benchmarks are "progress on transitional security arrangements in Darfur" and "progress on the national action plan for the protection of civilians."
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the authoritarian government in Khartoum then led by Omar al-Bashir, accusing it of discrimination and neglect.
The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of air attacks and a ground offensive by local nomadic Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people died in the conflict and 2.7 million fled their homes.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. He was ousted in April 2019 after three decades in power and is jailed in Khartoum facing corruption allegations and charges related to the overthrow of the former elected government.
In recent years, a successful government military campaign has reduced the Darfur conflict to mainly a fight with a rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction. In March 2020, the government signed a peace deal with several major rebel groups.
In October 2021, Sudan was plunged into turmoil following a coup led by the country's leading military figure, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, that derailed the short-run democratic transition following al-Bashir's ouster.
Citing the positive developments in Darfur, China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Dai Bing, said, "Sanctions against Sudan are outdated and should be lifted in light of the improved circumstances on the ground."
"Keeping those sanctions in place is not only untenable in the context of the country's political and security realities, but also limits the government's security capacity, negatively impacting its ability to maintain stability," Dai said.
But U.S. political counselor John Kelley said: "The situation in Darfur remains extremely fragile. The fundamental causes of the conflict persist, proliferation of small arms and light weapons continues, and the Sudanese authorities are often unable to provide security for civilians."
"Robust monitoring and reporting by the panel of experts therefore remains essential," Kelley said, and the benchmarks "are anchored in commitments" Sudan's government made in the 2020 peace agreement.