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By Tom Ashby
Abuju - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to consider sanctions against Sudan for "gross violations of human rights" in Darfur on Sunday.
Saying a keenly awaited UN report on the desert region would be published shortly, Annan said: "Serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights have taken place.
"This cannot be allowed to stand and action will have to be taken," he told reporters in Nigeria during an African Union summit to which Darfur rebels also appealed for a peacekeeping force strong enough to disarm Arab militias.
"The Council had considered sanctions and had not been able to move forward because of some divisions in the Council. But I believe that sanctions should still be on the table," Annan said at the meeting in the capital Abuja.
Western powers argued for imposing sanctions on Khartoum last year, but opposition by China, which has oil interests in Sudan, and Russia, which supplies arms, blocked the motion.
The Sudanese government, accused of bombing towns in Darfur from the air, again traded allegations with rebel groups.
Annan declined to say whether the UN report detailing abuses in the vast desert region where 1,8 million people have been forced from their homes would, like the United States, describe it as "genocide". The report would be made public after it is presented to the Security Council shortly, he said.
After years of tribal conflict over scarce resources in arid Darfur, two main rebel groups took up arms in February 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglect and of using Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to loot and burn non-Arab villages.
Khartoum admits arming some militants but denies any links to the "Janjaweed", whom it calls outlaws.
Tens of thousands have been killed in two years of fighting, many from disease and malnourishment.
On Friday, a UN spokesperson said the Sudanese air force launched a bombing raid on Wednesday in which about 100 people were killed and 9 000 displaced. The government then prevented African Union monitors from investigating, an AU source said.
Sudan's Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein said on a visit to Dubai that the government was looking into the report and would respond: "Armies all over the world have committed mistakes and it is possible that an isolated bombing took place. If this is so, we will punish the offenders."
The bombing report was far from the first but Hussein insisted Sudan was abiding by the ceasefire.
On Sunday, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) accused government forces of bombing two villages on Saturday in South Darfur state, south east of the capital Nyala.
The African Union (AU) has sent 1 000 monitors to log ceasefire violations but their mandate does not include peacekeeping.
One of the main rebel groups asked the summit to send AU troops to disarm the militias: "I implore ... all the leaders and presidents of the African states to send African Union forces to maintain security and peace in Darfur and disarm the Janjaweed," said SLM chairperson Abdel Wahid Mohammed Ahmed Nour.
In the east of the country, government troops and police were accused by local people of going on a rampage in ethnic Beja parts of Port Sudan on Saturday after shooting dead at least 18 people preparing to take part in a demonstration.
At least seven people were seriously wounded in the Red Sea city, in which soldiers threw grenades into houses several kilometres from the demonstration, Beja witnesses said.
Interior Minister Hussein said police had opened fire on demonstrators after cars were set on fire and shops looted.
"Security forces had to protect the port and oil reservoirs," he said, adding that the situation was now stable.