A top human rights group accused China and Russia on Tuesday of violating a U.N. arms embargo by supplying Sudan with weapons and equipment that were used to fuel deadly violence against civilians in Darfur and neighboring Chad.
Moscow and Beijing, which have balked at U.S. and British efforts to put new pressure on their trade ally Sudan, quickly rejected Amnesty International's allegations. Sudan said the report was false.
"The report is totally incorrect. ... It is the sort of claim that has no material proof," Sudanese government spokesman Bakri Mulah told The Associated Press from Khartoum.
The report said "the bulk" of the arms used in Darfur and Chad were transferred from China and Russia, with Sudan importing $83 million in arms from Beijing and $34.7 million in military equipment from Moscow in 2005, the latest available figures. It did not provide specific up-to-date figures.
"The irresponsible transfer of arms to Sudan and its neighbors are a significant factor in the massive human rights catastrophe in Darfur and its spread into eastern Chad," London-based Amnesty said in a statement.
The rights group said China and Russia — two of the five permanent Security Council members — should have been aware that their military equipment was "deployed by the Sudanese armed forces and militia for direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks in Darfur."
At least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been chased from their homes since 2003 when ethnic African rebels in the Sudanese region of Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated central government located in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.
Sudan is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic tribes and unleashing militias known as the janjaweed — a charge the government denies. The violence has now spilled into Chad and the Central African Republic.
Russian helicopters in attacks?
Amnesty said it was particularly concerned about Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships acquired by the Sudan air force that were allegedly being used to launch attacks in Darfur.
The report included a photo, allegedly from March, of three Chinese Fantan fighter jets on the tarmac of an airport in Nyala in southern Darfur. It said the aircraft were "specifically designed to be used for ground attack operations."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing does not sell arms to regions under a U.N. embargo. She said China's weapons sales to Africa were made to sovereign nations and were "very limited and small in scale" but refused to say specifically how much was sold to Sudan.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said "no Russian weapons have been shipped to Darfur."
"Russia's military and technical cooperation with other countries is in line with international rules and norms. Russia has fully abided by the provisions of resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which ban arms shipments to Darfur," the ministry said.
The Amnesty report followed the leaking of a U.N. report last month asserting that Sudan's government was flying attack aircraft painted white to resemble U.N. planes, and other military equipment into Darfur against the embargo. Sudan denied the claims.
Following that report, the U.S. and Britain began leading a push for new sanctions against Sudan if it continues to refuse to deploy U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
Resistance to U.N. force
An ill-equipped and understaffed African Union force is patrolling the western Sudan region. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has refused calls for a joint U.N.-AU force, although he recently agreed to let the U.N. send 3,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, backed by six helicopter gunships.
Both Russia and China, which have close trade ties with Sudan, oppose the U.S.-British sanctions proposal. China — which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports — is facing increasing international pressure to use its influence in Sudan to pressure Khartoum into stopping the violence.
"Nobody has the leverage that the Chinese do — not the Arab League, not the U.S., not the EU. It's the Chinese; they're the ones," said Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College in Massachusetts.
Reeves said the only way to ensure that the U.N. arms embargo is enforced is to have a U.N. force on the ground.
"You could end the arms movement in Sudan overnight once the force were deployed, but it's precisely for that reason that Khartoum has refused to accept a U.N. force," he said.