(Brussels)- European governments must apply targeted sanctions on President Omar El Bashir and other top Sudanese officials responsible for the ongoing military offensive and associated abuses against civilians in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today.

A summit of EU heads of state is scheduled for October 20, 2006 in Finland. In October, the UN Panel of Experts reported to the UN sanctions committee that almost all the warring parties in Darfur were blatantly violating the arms embargo and recommended that individual sanctions be applied to a confidential list of individuals.

“The UN Panel of Experts has recommended sanctions on those who continue to abuse civilians and violate the arms embargo. Clearly Khartoum policymakers should be top of this list,” said Peter Takirambudde, director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “The European Union says it supports sanctions. If this is more than rhetoric then now is the time to apply them at the European level.”

In August, the Sudanese government launched a major offensive against rebel factions who refused to sign a May 2006 peace agreement. The past two months have seen fierce fighting in North Darfur, and Sudanese government aircraft have repeatedly bombed the area, on some occasions destroying villages and indiscriminately targeting civilians.

On October 7-8, fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and Darfur rebel groups could be heard in refugee camps in eastern Chad, and more than 100 wounded and detained Sudanese soldiers are reportedly being held across the border in Chad in circumstances that remain to be clarified. This development could mark a serious deterioration in the recently-restored relations between the governments of Chad and Sudan, each of whom continues to support insurgent groups against the other.

There are no reliable estimates of civilian casualties from the fighting in North Darfur due to the limited international access to the area, a result of the significant increase in attacks on humanitarian workers across Darfur.

In South Darfur, attacks by various tribal militia groups have killed hundreds and displaced thousands of civilians in three areas: Buram, Greida, and in the vicinity of Muhajariya, all strategic areas for the Sudanese government due to rebel presence. Although the attacks are apparently undertaken by militia members, the groups appear to receive support – and possibly coordination – from Sudanese officials, and follow longstanding patterns of destruction, forced displacement and violence against civilians.

“Diplomacy is having no effect on the Sudanese government: Khartoum’s hand is clearly behind not only the aerial bombardment in North Darfur, but also, less obviously, the vicious militia attacks in South Darfur,” said Takirambudde. “As is the rule in Darfur, once again civilians are bearing the brunt of the Sudanese government offensive.”

The May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which was signed by the Sudanese government and one faction of the main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), has contributed to the serious deterioration in Darfur’s already appalling security situation.

Most of the non-signatory factions have grouped together under an alliance called the National Redemption Front (NRF), which has attacked government targets and has also been involved in bouts of inter-rebel fighting that have caused displacement and other serious abuses of civilians.

“Continuing Sudanese offensives and rebel fragmentation will produce nothing but more misery for the civilians of Darfur and an increasingly unstable Chad,” said Takirambudde.