Report says pressure changed Chinese Darfur stance

KHARTOUM Sat Aug 18, 2007 6:49pm EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - China is still giving Sudan financial and military aid that enables it to wage war in Darfur, but global pressure on Beijing has made a difference, a Small Arms Survey research paper said.

The paper said advocacy to persuade China to exert its influence over Sudan was a "promising avenue" to bring peace and security to Darfur, torn apart by 4-1/2 years of revolt.

"(China) continues to provide a financial and military means for Khartoum to engage in its brutal campaign to suppress the Darfur rebellion," said the Geneva-based independent research organization's report, seen by Reuters on Saturday.

It said Chinese help to develop Sudan's crucial oil revenues - more than 50 percent of its budget -- and in selling Khartoum arms and weapons technology, were helping Sudan in its military campaign in the remote west.

International experts estimate 200,000 have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes since non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing Khartoum of marginalizing region.

To quell the revolt, Khartoum mobilized militias who stand accused of crimes including rape, murder and looting. The counter insurgency campaign, which includes widespread aerial bombardment, attracted international criticism.

Sudan denies supporting the militia and puts the death toll at 9,000.

The world's largest humanitarian operation is underway to feed and shelter some 4.2 million people the United Nations estimates are affected by the war.

OIL REVENUES

The Small Arms Survey said China's financial support to Sudan indirectly helped finance its wars, lifting Khartoum's income to at least $1.3 billion a year from oil revenues.

Chinese companies have controlling interests in Sudan's largest oil blocks and 50 percent of its largest refinery. But Chinese investment was larger than just oil, the report said.

"China is now northern Sudan's most important trade partner," the report said, adding investment was in construction, dams and railways as well as the energy sector.

On arms, the report said Chinese-Sudanese military relations strengthened from 2002 with high-level exchange visits.

While little information is available, it cited U.N. figures showing China as the largest military weapons and parts supplier to Sudan in 2004 and 2005, overtaking Iran. In 2005 it supplied almost $25 million worth.

The report said pressure from advocacy groups and negative media attention ahead of China hosting the 2008 Olympic Games had pushed Beijing to use its influence over Sudan more wisely.

Activists including Hollywood actress and rights activist Mia Farrow, who is the goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF, urged China on Wednesday to use its influence in Sudan to boost security.

China has appointed a special envoy to Darfur and Chinese President Hu Jintao warned Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over Darfur during a visit in February 2007.

"Since 2006, Beijing's approach to Darfur has shifted towards a more pragmatic stance," the report said.

"Given Beijing's undisputed leverage with Khartoum, engaging it further may be a promising avenue in the international community's efforts to bring peace and security to Darfur," the report concluded.

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